Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tech Companies: Look to the UN to Improve Diversity

I'm grateful to the many tech companies that are publicly sharing their diversity data. Collecting dis-aggregated data is definitely a major starting point to addressing the problem of the lack of diversity. Moreover publicly acknowledging your numbers, especially when they're less than ideal, is definitely a laudable effort. Tech companies can follow the lead of the United Nations (UN) in implementing new strategies to improve diversity. 
Increasing diversity among an organization's workforce requires a multifaceted approach of recruitment and retention. The United Nations (UN) has also had a poor track record of retaining women in top leadership positions. However, in 2012 the UN took a bold step in committing to a new policy, the UN system-wide Action Plan (UN SWAP), to set goals and measure progress towards the goals of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Tech companies can implement their own SWAP policy to set specific diversity goals and define actionable strategies to achieve such goals.

The UN-SWAP provides a comprehensive framework to hold UN institutions accountable for mainstreaming gender perspectives into all aspects of their work, laying out guidance of how they might go about it and ensuring that women are represented in equal numbers at all levels and in all the work of the UN whether it is peace-building, conflict resolution and mediation or procurement of gender-specific bulletproof vests for police and military contingents to ensuring adequate financial resources for programs dedicated to gender equality. Its 15 Performance Indicators, which provide a common understanding, method and progressive sliding scale for all UN entities to monitor progress towards the goal of gender equality, are organized around six main elements: strengthening accountability; enhancing results-based management; establishing oversight through monitoring, evaluation and reporting; allocating sufficient human and financial resources; developing and/or strengthening staff capacity and competency in gender mainstreaming; and ensuring coherence/coordination and knowledge information management at the global, regional and national levels. Moreover, and similar to the needs of a large multinational company, the UN-SWAP allows an organization to specifically track progress in individual departments and divisions.

Adapting the 15 SWAP indicators, companies can set their own goals, time lines, and strategies to achieve their diversity goals. While the UN-SWAP focuses on measuring gender, companies can modify it to address their broader definitions of diversity, which include race, disability, sexual orientation, age, etc. The UN-SWAP model provides tools to increase the recruitment and retention of employees from underrepresented communities. However, since it is a comprehensive approach to diversity, it also can serve as a way for companies to look at how they value diversity across their entire organization, from suppliers to untapped customer demographics.

The private sector has finally accepted the concept that increased diversity often yields increased profits and a more talented workforce. I commend the many tech companies for taking the first step by publicly acknowledging their current challenge. I encourage them to take the next step and consider the UN-SWAP as a new solution to achieving their diversity goals.
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