Some might call the expression “Diversity Fatigue” controversial. It was coined by Aubrey Blanche, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Atlassian, a US software company that commissioned a survey on the state of diversity in US tech companies. The findings make difficult reading. We all recognize that a diverse workforce is more innovative, attracts (and retains) the best talent and keeps employees engaged. Workplace diversity is the right thing to do from a moral, ethical and financial standpoint. But why this “Diversity Fatigue”? Why is it so difficult to improve diversity? If even the big hitters in tech can’t get it right – what chance do smaller organizations have?
The report commissioned by Atlassian survey 1,900 tech workers across the US. Aubrey Blanche comments:
“For those who advocated for diversity within their companies, the fatigue comes from pushing for change for so many years and see so little of it. And for those supporting, or even just watching from the sidelines, we’ve been talking about diversity for so long, they’re exhausted hearing about it.”
The Atlassian report highlights out respondents appear to be “tuning out” of the diversity conversation, with 35% saying that they had participated in a discussion about diversity in tech in 2017, compared with 42% a year earlier.
Only 23% of respondents said they had engaged company leaders on how to create a more inclusive environment, down from 56% a year earlier.
Joelle Emerson, Chief Executive of inclusivity and diversity consulting firm Paradigm, which can count Twitter and AirBnB among its clients, believes that companies are not talking enough about best practices to improve diversity – but rather get hung up on what doesn’t.
From IQ to CQ
In 1971, US journalist Timothy J. Sturgeon coined a phrase that would come to be a global name for the cutting-edge industry. In a region of the Southern San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California sits ‘Silicon Valley’.
So-called at the time due to the large number of silicon chip innovators and manufacturers in the region. The area is now home to many of the world’s largest high-tech corporations including the headquarters of 39 businesses in the Fortune 1000.
Silicon Valley’s high-tech made it a focal point for highly intelligent people at a time when a high-IQ was considered the ultimate achievement.
Four and a half decades later and cultural intelligence (CQ) is becoming just as important.
Cultural Intelligence, the ability to relate to culturally diverse situations, as well as work effectively in them is fundamental to global organizations.
It is a capability driven by a diverse workforce that brings a multitude of corporate advantages, yet diversity is surprisingly low not just in Silicon Valley, but in the corporate world at-large.
The Diversity “Problem in Silicon Valley”
Considered to be amongst the biggest of the Silicon Valley ‘Big Hitters’, Apple published a diversity report in 2017 which concluded that underrepresented minorities employed at the company grew from just 19% in 2014 to 23% in 2017.
While the tech giant claimed that 50% of its new hires in the US in 2017 were from historically underrepresented groups in tech, the meagre results mirror the industry at large.
Diversity problems: Not restricted to Silicon Valley
The diversity challenges faced by Silicon Valley half a century ago may seem much to have improved now, but the numbers still don’t add up.
The question of how to improve diversity isn’t just a challenge faced by the tech sector.
According to The Guardian; “Britain’s biggest companies have been told that a lack of diversity in their boardrooms could hinder government plans to increase trade with non-EU countries after Brexit.”
The warning comes as a report by executive search company Green Park shows that the number of FTSE 100 businesses with no ethnic minority representation at senior level has fallen from 62 to 58.
However, none of the companies have CEOs or chief financial officers who are women from ethnic minority groups.
Why is this important?
Diversity: The Benefits
In today’s corporate landscape, taking action to improve diversity can hold the key to fostering new ways of thinking, reaching out to a wider range of customers and growing your business.
Publisher Malcolm Forbes once said that ‘diversity is the art of thinking independently together.’
Organizations cannot thrive and grow if everyone in them thinks and behaves the same way. A diverse and inclusive workforce with people from different racial, educational and social backgrounds and age groups opens up a wealth of possibilities. It can even help to encourage creativity and foster innovation.
5 Reasons why diversity matters to your business
1. You’ll have a better understanding of your customers
Organizations are now waking up and realizing the business benefits of diversity.
Nearly half (49%) of employers surveyed for LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends 2018 said that they focus on diversity to better represent their customers. Other key reasons cited by respondents included ‘to improve company culture’ (78%) and ‘to improve company performance’ (62%).
2. Diverse teams perform better
Diverse teams have been found to make decisions 60% faster than non-diverse teams. “Unfortunately, non-inclusive decision-making is all too common,” says Erik Larson, author of the report and CEO and founder of Cloverpop;
“All-male teams make about 38% of the decisions in a typical large company, and the gap is even worse among less diverse firms like those in Silicon Valley’s technology industry.”
3. Greater innovation and creativity
Having a workforce comprised of people with different backgrounds, experiences and skills means that the ideas generated by these teams won’t be homogenous – they’ll be innovative and creative. And this can have a significant impact on an organization’s bottom line.
4. It’ll be easier to hire and retain talent
Supporting employee networks for specific demographic groups – based on gender, sexuality, ethnicity or religion, for example – has a direct link to employee retention and engagement, a 2017 study by Women Ahead found.
Meanwhile, LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends 2018 says, “Even at the most diverse of companies, employees will disengage and leave if they don’t feel included and accepted.”
Taking the executive decision to improve Diversity & Inclusion can position you as an employer of choice.
5. It’ll boost your employer brand
Since April 2018 UK companies with 250 or more employees now have to publicly disclose their gender pay gaps under a new legal requirement.
This means there is more public awareness than ever of companies’ D&I initiatives or lack of them.
A strong Diversity & Inclusion strategy can be a key differentiator for customers and enhance your brand reputation across all markets.
We cannot improve diversity without support from the top
Diversity starts with leadership decisions, so all business leaders, regardless of their own demographic group should make the recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce a corporate priority. It should be as important as the quarterly results.
We live in a deeply connected and global world and it should come as no surprise that more diverse companies and institutions achieve better performance.
Most organizations, (Silicon Valley big hitters included) can do more to take full advantage of the opportunity that diverse teams represent. Given the high return on investment a diverse workforce is the only logical step to take.