Diversity and inclusion are a source of strength in so many cases and yet, over the years, the tech industry has been isolated from many of the ideas and strengths available among a broader set of leaders and contributors. Given tech’s growing leadership in society at large, it’s critical that it becomes more inclusive. But this diversity isn’t just happening organically, and that’s why we launched a Diversity in Tech speaker series to discuss this problem and find solutions.
Diversity in Tech is administered by our unique internal committee, Diversity At Automat (DAA). Started from the ground up by employees who wanted to better reflect both the composition of our teams and the markets that we serve, DAA is driven to solve the problems of diversity and inclusion across the range of standard tech company roles (whether in sales, marketing, product, customer success, administration or R&D), starting first by reaching gender diversity benchmarks and then moving on to drive better representation in other areas where the company may be lacking.
This isn’t a policy in search of a problem. This is a real solution to some of the challenges every tech company faces. Diverse companies produce 19% more revenue. Diverse executive teams are 33% more likely to produce above average profits, while diverse boards of directors are 43% more likely to do the same. We’re all chasing growth in the face of change, innovation and competition, and diverse teams are more likely to surface the ideas and initiatives that will make a difference.
Diversity in tech isn’t a distraction – diversity in tech is an edge. In a normal, well-functioning company, the biggest challenge in achieving diversity isn’t the team that’s already in place, it’s recruiting. Finding and surfacing the right talent and competencies among a broader talent pool that is still bias to specific genders, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds can be difficult, so specific policies need to be implemented to out-engineer those challenges and put the best possible team together.
With that in mind, our first Diversity in Tech event featured two expert speakers on the topic – Jennifer McDonald of Mylo and Irene Serrano of Keatext. Speaking to a packed house (who’s minds were in no part opened by plentiful wine, refreshments and finger food), here’s what they had to say:
Jennifer McDonald on Changing Diversity in Tech
Having helped build mobile savings products in the developing world, both in partnership with major financial institutions and with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Jennifer has extensive experience in designing and marketing products with diversity and inclusion in mind. As Chief Operating Officer at Mylo, a round-up savings and investment app, she saw an opportunity to capitalize on the company’s focus around reaching underserved and financially eager demographics, while also overcoming the additional diversity challenges that face fintech companies.
Jennifer cited many of the statistics mentioned above in rationalizing why diversity and inclusion are beneficial to tech companies, and with these benchmarks as a goal, laid out a simple 5-step strategy for increasing diversity and inclusion in hiring practices.
1. Broaden the candidate pool
Because the tech industry is by default less diverse, tech firms can increase diversity by broadening their candidate pool outside of the technology industry, as well as looking to candidates in earlier stages of their career. The first place to look is in adjacent industries or industries that address a similar customer base, where more diverse candidates may already be working to solve a problem that a tech firm is actively working on.
As for looking at candidates earlier in their career, this can take advantage of more recent diversity pushes among younger cohorts of tech workers, while working around the selection biases that may exist in the industry at large.
2. Hire for competencies in place of experience
Broadening the candidate pool doesn’t necessarily mean compromising on performance. Competencies and individual values and attributes can be hired for in place of experience, and are actually shown to serve as better indicators of performance than experience alone. Companies can also get more value from employees by helping them in their career growth, leveraging their perspective and avoiding the rigidity that may come with some candidates who exclusively focus on leveraging their experience – potentially at the cost of creativity and dynamism.
3. Diversify the selection team
Selection teams play a key role in driving the best candidates to roles. If selection teams aren’t diverse, then biases can take over and ultimately reproduce the same diversity issues seen before. Where selection teams have diverse genders, ethnicities, backgrounds, cultural experiences, sexual orientations or any number of traits, they are more capable of triangulating a candidate’s real value, strengths and best fit within an organization
4. Set diversity goals and openly communicate them
Tech companies are used to focusing on core metrics and choosing key indicators to drive growth. Because of the benefits of diversity, it shouldn’t be treated differently. As long as the goal is both relevant and achievable, it should be communicated publicly in order to generate buy-in, surface concerns and maintain transparency about what kind of values and performance outcomes the company wants to reflect.
5. Find allies that empower diversity
In small, flexible organizations, leadership is critical to getting anything done. Those in leadership roles sometimes lack the perspective needed to see where diversity and inclusion initiatives can add value, but if they are sufficiently open to new ideas, rationalizing diversity challenges to them can produce allies that make more ambitious goals (and benefits) easier to achieve. Finding allies in leadership positions can also help manage the tendency of more assertive or extroverted personalities to take control in group discussions, empowering more diverse groups of individuals to surface their insights.
With these principles in practice, a focus on diversity has also opened up new market opportunities for Mylo. 37% of Mylo’s users are female, 50% higher than the industry benchmark. With more than 140,000 users, 30 employees and a fast growth trajectory, Mylo’s success is indicative of the strength that comes in playing to diversity, especially where the challenge may be more stark.
Irene Serrano on Scaling Diversity in Tech
Irene is the Chief Marketing Officer at Keatext, an AI-powered text analytics platform that analyzes customer feedback and creates actionable insights for large enterprises. A PhD in Communications and Media Studies with extensive content marketing and digital project management experience, Irene is also an immigrant to Canada and a relative newcomer to the tech industry, having spent much of her previous career in marketing agencies and in academia.
Keatext’s diversity measures are far different than where most tech companies find themselves. Their founder, a female immigrant with a PhD in Artificial Intelligence, founded the business after years in academia, and with unique perspective ultimately built a company that is composed simultaneously of 60% more women, immigrants and employees above the age of 35. This diversity has yielded effective performance, but as the company scales beyond its current count of 20 employees, how can it maintain the diversity that has led to its initial success? Irene offered some insights in how Keatext planned to stay true to its origins.
Standardize recruiting policies
When recruiting for speed and scale, it can sometimes be easier to find the most experienced candidates who are most available, which will generally be a less diverse pool of applicants than one with broader sets of experience or at different stages of their careers.
To address this, Keatext created a scoring system based on core competencies and also instituted an interview policy that required two team members to be present for interviews at any given time. This ensured that perspective on new candidates was varied, more accurate and more capable of surfacing their value to Keatext.
Flexibility in the workplace
The idea of 9-to-5 (or longer and later hours) generally suits an older, less diverse version of the workforce. A modern, creative company needs diversity to fuel its performance, and offering flexible core hours, the ability to work from home and other initiatives that increase the ways in which employees are able to work on their own and in groups allows for both diverse individuals and dynamics to emerge, better enabling every employee to succeed.
For employees who are pregnant, taking care of children, coming from overseas, have family commitments or any number of challenges that need to be met in concert with maintaining high performance, making work accessible is critical to ensuring they can succeed. Whether it’s making sure the sound quality of virtual meetings is sufficient for every participant or the ability of employees to work from abroad while their visa situation is sorted out, these little things empower a diverse team to stay diverse and continue to yield the performance benefits.
Help employees feel valued
In a unique testament to Keatext’s culture, Irene has a core role on their executive team while also expecting a child. She said that she was initially hesitant to share the news of her pregnancy with her peers, but when she did come out with her good fortune, they were overjoyed at the news.
Despite her concerns about fulfilling her role while managing a young life, they assured her that she was both entitled to and safe in her role, as well as the accompanying maternity leave guaranteed to her. Embracing the changes in an employees life, as well as the diversity of their experiences, doesn’t create costs for a company – it encourages their employees to perform better, makes them feel more invested in their roles and yields even more growth as time goes on.
While Keatext is exemplary in many ways, it still faces struggles in realizing inherent diversity across all teams. One out of the team’s six developers are women, and there is continued difficulty in finding diverse candidates for R&D roles. Challenging as that may be, cultures like that at Keatext still yield positive benefits, and ultimately help propagate the change that’s needed to make such challenges less common in the future.
What the Audience Wanted to Know
Multiple questions came after the speakers finished. When asked about recruiting for diversity beyond gender, Jennifer McDonald responded “The same principles apply across gender, ethnicity, sexuality and so on. Sometimes, in extreme circumstances, you need to use the tools and software available to seek out candidates who represent a viewpoint that your business is lacking and recruit them directly, but the benefits are well worth it.”
Irene emphasized that the benefits of diversity are even more magnified for certain types of technology companies. “In AI, more diversity is a necessity, both because the technology is newer and because the applications are broader than many other domains. A diverse set of views leads gives an AI business more access to different types of customers.”
“In AI, more diversity is a necessity, both because the technology is newer and because the applications are broader than many other domains. A diverse set of views leads gives an AI business more access to different types of customers.” – Irene Serrano, CMO at Keatext
When asked about obstacles to diversity, both had definitive outlooks that showed the need for persistence and clarity in pursuing these goals. “I had a lot of experience working with legacy companies and large multinationals where change came slow,” said Jennifer. “The benefit of a smaller tech company is that you can actually achieve diversity goals and change a culture much more quickly, but if there are individuals or leaders who deliberately stand in the way of those kinds of objectives, you can take that as an indicator that you’re in the wrong place. People need to be respectful and align with the agreed upon philosophy of the company – less diverse hires need to respect the values of the team, whatever role they may have.”
“People need to be respectful and align with the agreed upon philosophy of the company – less diverse hires need to respect the values of the team, whatever role they may have.” – Jennifer McDonald, COO at Mylo
“The language people use is also something crucial to identify and work against in avoiding bias and allowing more diversity to take hold,” added Irene. “For instance, at one point I was hiring for a growth hacker. There are a lot of people who do this kind of job without carrying this kind of title, but most of the people who advertise themselves as a growth hacker are fairly traditional candidates from a diversity perspective. Neutralizing misrepresentative language can go a long way to making both the value and effectiveness of diversity clear, and have a positive business impact as well.”
The nuances of hiring were also brought up, but more advice came from the speakers. “Men have a tendency to apply for roles even when they’re significantly underqualified for them, whereas women will generally only apply for roles in which they are sufficiently qualified or even overqualified,” said Jennifer. “This is where, again, focusing on competencies and being less instrumental or detailed about day to day requirements can open up the candidate pool and find an even better person for the job.”
Finally, someone asked: “How do you drive change from the bottom up, rather than simply from leadership?” Both agreed – “culture lives and dies in the middle of a company. Wherever you’re identifying an issue or a challenge with diversity, you need to find allies both within top leadership but also within teams or small groups and define the change that needs to be realized. Being proactive and finding like-minded colleagues is the first step to initiating change from the ground up.”
Creating more Diversity in Tech
A lot to digest and learn from, but DAA’s first Diversity in Tech event was a resounding success. Every company can benefit from increased openness, new perspectives and deeper innovation. Removing intolerance and judgement from a culture is essential to creating change, but the benefits are – again – well worth it.
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