Thursday, August 21, 2014

Silicon Valley: Take on Your Next Challenge of Innovating Diversity in the Workplace

Silicon Valley is the place of endless possibility. The birthplace of new technologies that are directly impacting the way people live around the world. Change moves very fast here, unlike the public policy processes of other powerhouse places like Washington, D.C. In fact, in many regards, the innovation happening here is far ahead of American laws and policies, and actually sets the tone for their creation. Many of the creative geniuses here like to attack a problem quickly, but with an innovative mindset that results in a lasting impact. The most recent obstacle pervasive throughout the Valley is its lack of diversity. However, this challenge is also the Valley's greatest opportunity to continue to reform the way America does business.

In recent months, most of the leading technology companies in Silicon Valley have collectively acknowledged a major challenge their industry is experiencing overall. The tech leaders have publicly acknowledged the lack of diversity in their companies' employees. Moreover and fortunately, these public acknowledgements come with the recognition that this is a serious problem, and that the company is ultimately suffering from its dearth of diversity. Silicon Valley does not run from problems. It attacks them head on and finds the most effective solution. I am eager to see how Silicon Valley innovates diversity in the upcoming months and years. 

Fixing the diversity dilemma has no single solution, and can't be cured with the development of a new app or upgrading a tech product. The solution must be multifaceted and include short-term and long-term strategies. On the whole, tech companies must not only focus on recruitment and retention, but also on how the company overall values its commitment to diversity.

Continue to collect data to get a deep understanding of how the diversity challenge exists in your specific company. Offer employees the opportunity to share candid feedback about their work experience in regards to diversity through regular anonymous surveys or focus groups. Seriously evaluate this feedback and enact what changes are feasible.

Additionally, short term tactics can include enhanced recruitment efforts to find new candidate pools. This may mean partnerships with minority organizations or schools from underrepresented communities. Make special efforts to recruit diverse candidates for upcoming internship programs. This may also look like a revised internal reference system that removes traditional barriers for talented candidates that don't necessarily come from the top schools or other privileged traditional recruitment pools and social networks. Scholarship funds or partnerships with established nonprofits are a great investment.

Short-term Strategies
Immediately, a company can actually improve its numbers in the short run through a number of tactics. Number one, focus on the retention of current employees who come from diverse backgrounds. Support them with employee resource groups, mentoring, and professional development opportunities. Companies can make sure they have the best maternity and paternity policies to entice employees to stay. Similarly, companies can provide resources and programs to on-ramp women who may have left the workforce due to child rearing. What diversity best practices has your company not yet utilized or could be doing better? Hire new staff soon to help you explore these questions.

Keep an ongoing conversation about diversity within your organization. Host events to celebrate diversity and encourage education and awareness among all levels of staff. These can be round-table discussions, films, receptions honoring historical months and events, or conferences.
Companies can consider industry-wide partnerships, coalitions, or working groups to work together to improve the tech industry overall. Sharing data and resources collectively can yield a greater impact. Commission a multilateral research study to explore system wide best practices that companies can undertake. 

As annual strategic planning, board meetings, marketing, and budgeting processes begin, make sure diversity is on the agenda and significant time is dedicated to its discussion. All top company leaders need to be included in this conversation. Companies need to determine long-term plans to address diversity in a comprehensive way. What exactly are the short-term and long-term diversity goals for your organization? What financial and human resources will you dedicate to achieving such goals within certain deadlines? How does your company value diversity in a comprehensive way, beyond just statistics about diverse employees, but across all aspects of your organization, from supply chains to potential customers? As I mentioned in a previous post, the United Nations has recently created a system-wide plan of attack to improve gender parity among its employees. Tech companies can adapt this model to achieve their own diversity goals.

If there is an industry ready, willing, and able to take on the challenge of diversity in the workplace, it is high tech. Already, it has revolutionized the workplace, and perhaps diversity will be its greatest new innovation.

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