How to Improve Diversity and Inclusion at Your Company


November 22, 2021


180 Engineering

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are long-standing issues in tech.

In a terrific piece in the Harvard Business Review, Bhaskar Chakravorti uses Google as an example. The company’s 2020 annual diversity report revealed that their workforce consists of:

  • 5.5% of employees who identify as Black or Black and any other race;
  • 6.6% of employees who identify as Latinx or Latinx and any other race; and
  • 32.5% of employees who identify as women.

As Chakravorti points out, “Google is not atypical; its industry peers have similarly skewed statistics.”

The tech sector has been slowly creating and implementing DEI policies for more than 10 years but the industry is clearly still dominated by white male employees. However, the potential for swift and significant change is on the horizon.

Together, surging social justice movements, the pandemic (specifically the move to remote work), and the growing presence of Gen Z in the workforce have created the perfect storm for change.

The Social Justice Movements of 2020 and DEI

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, among others in 2020, prompted widespread social justice movements, most significantly Black Lives Matter. In a LinkedIn Talent Blog piece, Lydia Abbott explains that as people around the globe called for an end to racial injustice, companies faced pressure from investors and customers to address their DEI policies. In response, many set ambitious diversity goals, including hiring and promoting more Black employees.

But good intentions and goal setting don’t guarantee results. Most importantly, companies need to address the inclusion aspect of DEI policy. Ola Sitarska, the Engineering Lead at Onfido, discussed the differences between diversity and inclusion in a podcast. Sitarska says that, “Diversity is about getting as many different people with diverse backgrounds, genders, viewpoints and perspectives into one room as possible.” On the other hand, “Inclusion is basically the way to diversity. It’s about making sure everyone’s experience is equal, and every viewpoint is treated as equally important. It helps everyone feel accepted and like they are part of the group.” She goes on to explain that, “diversity is getting invited to a meeting. Inclusion is being a part of that meeting and having some sway in it.”

Statistics show that many employers have work to do as far as inclusion goes. In a piece at Reworked, Scott Clark quotes a study of 83,000 employees at 100 companies that revealed that:

  • 58% of employees feel that their employer does not have clearly defined diversity and inclusion goals;
  • 67% of employees believe that their company should do more to make them feel included; and
  • 60% of employees don’t feel that they can be their authentic selves in their workplace.

Committing to the creation of a more diverse and inclusive workplace is the right thing to do. However, achieving DEI goals will require a significant amount of work. Change won’t happen overnight.

The Impact of the Pandemic and Remote Work on DEI

A significant challenge to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace is geography. This is particularly true for the technology sector in America, which is heavily concentrated within a few urban hubs including Silicon Valley, Seattle, Boston, and New York. As Chakravorti states, even if the tech sector attempted to source candidates from outside of those metro areas, many of those candidates would be unwilling to move: “Their social networks and support systems are elsewhere, and the concentration of tech workers drives up the cost of living in cluster locations, such as the Bay Area or Boston.”

But the sudden shift of white collar workers to remote work as a response to the coronavirus pandemic demonstrated just how viable working at home can be. And experts are predicting that remote work is here to stay, at least to some extent.

Remote work holds tremendous potential to expand diversity within workplaces. And it can address issues beyond those posed by geography. For example, it can allow women more flexibility in juggling caregiving and work duties. It can also minimize or remove the need for employees with disabilities or chronic health conditions to seek out accommodations.

For all the promise remote work holds in terms of improving diversity and inclusion, it is also rife with potential issues. Remote work should be monitored closely and evaluated regularly to ensure that DEI goals are actually being achieved. In a terrific and comprehensive piece in the Harvard Business Review, Alexandra Samuel and Tara Robertson suggest asking these questions to make sure that remote work is supporting your DEI goals appropriately:

  1. Are pay, promotions, and advancement linked to time spent in the office or to productivity?
  2. Is remote work possible for and offered to all employees? Are there systemic differences in how much flexibility employees have in choosing where to work?
  3. Are remotely management tactics (like key logging or enforced logins) handled fairly?
  4. How does each individual employee perform in the office versus their performance at home?

The data you collect should help you determine which adjustments are needed to make your DEI policies more effective.

How Gen Z Is Expected to Shape DEI

Gen Z, that generation born between 1997 and 2012, is beginning to enter the professional workforce. It’s anticipated that this group of workers will have a tremendous impact on DEI policies. As Ed O’Boyle points out in his piece at Gallup, “Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is not a ‘nice to have’ for this generation; it’s an imperative that is core to their personal identities.”

The world that Gen Z grew up in is incredibly diverse, much more so than that of previous generations. As a result, not only will they insist on effective DEI policies in their workplaces, but they will help to shape the scope of those policies. As an example, gender identity and expression and choice of pronouns are key to the experience of many Gen Zers. This issue carries so much weight that a whopping 25% of Gen Zers said that they would decline a job offer if their correct pronouns weren’t used. Actions like these will ensure that their employers recognize that diversity is about more than race and ability.

Turning Talk Into Action: Achieving A Higher Standard of DEI

DEI has always been an incredibly complex concept. Global events of the past two years have added considerably to that complexity. While a commitment to diversity in hiring is a commendable first step, DEI goals will likely take years to achieve. But don’t let that deter you. It’s important for different voices to contribute to the tech sector. Chakravorti gives these examples: “Consider unjust facial recognition technologies that exacerbate discrimination against people of color or virtual reality headsets — designed primarily by and for men — that could cause women to feel nauseous. These are just two examples of products in an industry with an insufficient diversity of perspectives going into the product design.”

There are a number of steps that you can take to more quickly achieve your DEI goals. Some of the best are summarized below.

Create And Hire For The Role of Chief Diversity Officer

In the initial stages of DEI planning, some companies might delegate the work involved to someone already employed in their HR office. But, to be meaningful and effective, DEI policies are best handled by DEI leaders.

Often referred to as Chief Diversity Officers, those in diversity management roles utilize their understanding of ethics, fairness, new technologies such as AI, and inclusive leadership to handle what Scott Clark calls “the most interesting and influential area of talent management.”

Assess Your Current DEI Policies And Measure Success

Start by looking at your current DEI policies and goals and weigh them against your priorities, resources, and business strategy. Decide where to make changes and improvements and then establish a plan to achieve your goals. As with any business plan, it’s important to track its progress to adjust your strategy as needed and to ensure its timely success.

Communicate And Champion Your DEI Goals

Even if your organization has a CDO, all leaders within the company should affirm their commitment to your DEI policies and goals. And those policies and goals should be widely communicated within your company as well as to job candidates. It’s important for everyone to see that DEI is taken seriously at all levels within the organization and it’s more likely that employees can help you achieve your objectives if they have a clear understanding of what they are.

Hold Leaders And Managers Accountable

Lydia Abbott points out that many of the major companies that reaffirmed their commitment to DEI in response to the BLM movement have pledged to incorporate DEI metrics into executive compensation decisions. This type of motivation can be extremely effective.

Ensure That Your Recruitment Processes Are Free From Systemic Bias

Many recruitment and hiring practices unintentionally create bias. Look at things like your job descriptions, selection criteria, candidate outreach, and the way duties are assigned, to see if anything may be limiting certain candidates from applying or being hired. Once you identify those gaps, take steps to mitigate bias.

DEI has always been an important issue but global events of the past few years have pushed it to the forefront. Today’s businesses must actively pursue DEI in order to evolve and grow.