The Turning Point
It is impossible to ignore the intensifying accounts of discrimination issues that are in the forefront of today’s news stories. Leaders of both public and private entities are facing the need to respond and channel these voices in a productive way.
In the last six months alone there have been many important events worth discussing. The Women’s March, which protested the inauguration and the overall discrimination in our country, started as a Facebook post and grew to nationwide turnout across multiple cities involving millions of demonstrators. Women across the country, representing many diverse interests, expressed their belief that Trump had alienated them as well as verbally assaulted them with his cavalier and offensive statements. Shortly after, Travis Kalanick resigned from the tech titan, Uber, amidst allegations of “systemic sexual discrimination at Uber” and a long history of sexist behavior as well as other damaging complaints. The latest headline making the rounds is the notorious manifesto released by a Google employee. A software engineer, James Damore, released a personal ten page memo on the Google internal network, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” in which he put forth his opinions on the capabilities and inherent mindsets of men and women. Damore argued that less women are employed in tech roles because they are biologically not as inclined for engineering as men are. It was leaked to the public, and went viral as the “anti-diversity memo.” Shortly after releasing it, Damore was terminated, and a statement from CEO Sundar Pichai declared the memo in violation of the company’s code of conduct for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”.
These are only three examples of the issues of discrimination facing our country, and unfortunately they do not stand alone.
As evidenced by the responses and effects from those three examples, a forward-thinking company must be one that anticipates the needs of diversity as well as welcomes inclusion. There will be a price limiting the long-term success of nearsighted leaders who do not think that this is an issue.
A recent op-ed piece from Anita Hill in the New York Times painted the tech sector as “stuck in the past, more closely resembling ‘Mad Men’-era Madison Avenue or 1980s Wall Street than a modern egalitarian society.” Hill’s recommendation for a remedy is for women to consider huge costly class action suits like what faced the finance industry in the 90’s when over 2,000 women filed against Smith Barney over their discriminatory practices culminating in a $150M settlement at the time.
Huge public backlash, job loss at the top level, negative PR, and the potential for a lawsuit are merely the beginning. It is important for current business leaders to embrace the fact that the world is becoming a more connected and diverse place. Any endeavor that is anchored in a male, white, young, able-bodied viewpoint is one that is decidedly dated and will incur a costly backlash. Tomorrow’s vision will be built by those who aren’t afraid to make space for others by actively seeking to invite people from every gender, race, ability, and age to build more and build together.
From the smallest three-person startup to the reigning current monoliths, inclusivity is something that needs to be a part of building and running any endeavor. Besides being a humanistic ideal, inclusivity is a financial necessity that entrepreneurs need to consider in order to lead their companies and our communities into the future.
Solutions to Consider
To be proactive in building and nurturing a diverse culture of inclusion, companies should start with hiring practice reviews. As you build, ask yourself what you are doing to bring in people from as wide a swath as possible. Are you finding a wide cross section of applicants, or are you confining your search in ways that reinforce conformist perspectives? What kind of benefits package are you offering, and how does it support the families behind the candidates? A package that is created with a 20-yr. old recent male graduate in mind will be very different than one more broadly tailored for those with dependents or other concerns.
Beyond the entry point, one must keep diversity in mind in building your company’s culture. It is important to foster an inclusive culture through appropriate team bonding activities. For example, meals together offer more range for connection than drinks, and gaming events that emphasize strategic thinking and wittiness are more inviting to a broader set of individuals than contact sports.
A final suggestion to increase empathy, awareness, and inclusion among coworkers is to support and develop opportunities for mentorship and team exchange. The encouragement to see through new eyes, and the space to offer and receive new processes is a step that can not only make diversity second nature, but also grow a company greatly.