Tech is failing diversity. Here’s what we need to do.
Written by Abdullah Snobar
The ability to arrive at decisions quickly is highly praised in today’s fast-moving business world. But teams of like-minded thinkers that can act quickly but lack diverse opinions and backgrounds don’t always get the best results.
According to a 2015 McKinsey & Co report on diversity, companies that are diverse generate higher earnings. But if we know that an increase in diversity correlates to an increase in innovation and profitability, as the study suggests, why do we continue to see a lack of diversity in gender, sexuality, and ethnicity in many startups and international tech companies?
There’s no single answer to this complex and intersectional problem, but there are a few core areas in need of immediate support to create a more diverse and inclusive tech sector.
The first is being brutally honest with where we are today. Unfortunately, there isn’t much data on diversity in Canada’s tech sector, but from what we do know, it doesn’t look good. A 2017 study conducted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) showed that three of Canada’s top tech startups have less than 30 percent of female employees and none of them disclosed data on racial diversity. In the U.S., The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that ethnic disparity in the senior leadership level is quite large: 83 percent of employees were white, 10 percent Asian, and Hispanic, African American, multiracial and other employees made up less than seven percent.
Back in March, the DMZ shared a statistic that bothers our organization the most. Despite our best efforts as an incubator for diverse tech startups, only 21 percent of our founders are women. Given that over 50 percent of DMZ’s management are women, and 60 percent of our staff are women, we know that sitting at only one-fifth women founders isn’t nearly good enough.
Although this kind of data doesn’t shine the brightest light on Canada’s tech sector, and leaves many businesses to be questioned or even criticized, it does help us to take the first steps in understanding where our shortfalls lie and, in turn, creating new opportunities to improve on them.
The second core area in need of support is creating inclusive and welcoming spaces in the tech and innovation ecosystem that enable community members to contribute and participate.
Recently, a number of high-profile tech companies have been accused of promoting a far too well known “bro culture,” which has been an ongoing issue within the industry. These companies have created a space where a frat-styled “culture fit” has excluded many women, people of colour, the LGBTQ community, and older workers.
When looking at the last few Silicon Valley case studies under the non-inclusive “bro culture” file, which includes a number of sexual harassment and discrimination allegations, there is a reoccurring theme of a loss in profits.
When a company prioritizes bro-code over good behaviour, it leads to ignoring regulations, not valuing the importance of a human resources department, and most importantly, creating a lip service around diversity and inclusion, which does more harm than good.
If tech companies don’t focus on creating a culture of inclusiveness, they not only exclude key groups of people who can help them become more innovative and creative, but they also hurt their bottom line.
A recent Harvard Business Review study found that companies that are strong on both inherent diversity (traits that you’re born with, like gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation) and acquired diversity (traits you gain from experience, such as language skills and cultural fluency) result in creating more inclusive companies that out-innovate and out-perform others. The study also shows that such companies are 70 percent more likely to report capturing a new market.
Many startups think that implementing actionable steps to improve diversity and inclusion is an expensive solo effort, but many resources exist to support them. For example, organizations like TechGirls Canada co-created a free ‘#ChangeTogether Diversity Guidebook,’ which provides tangible strategies to help startups and scaleups improve their workforce equity and diversity.
These approaches include steps that range from structuring your hiring process, to equipping your operations manager with internal projects that would improve your work environment, and creating safe spaces for discussion among employees.
Although improving transparency, fostering inclusive spaces, and building community partnerships are only three of several ways to create a culture of diversity and inclusion in the tech sector, they’re only beginning steps.
If the tech industry reflects the diversity of the people who make up Canada’s population – including new immigrants, Indigenous peoples, LGBTQ employees, and persons with disabilities – we’ll achieve true innovation through the inclusion of fresh and much needed voices.