Tips for Ensuring a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion

What does it take for tech companies to ensure a culture of diversity and inclusion? For many, the best path forward involves providing platforms for honest and candid conversations among colleagues and management, along with surveys designed to take the company’s pulse on inclusivity-related issues.

Many companies are also intent on diversifying their hiring pipeline. However, diversifying the workforce is a long and involved process that requires a significant change in organizational and management culture; it’s not something that happens overnight, especially if you want new hires to feel welcome and thrive in their roles. 

Ian Cook, vice president of people analytics at Visier, said companies should combine well-defined statements about building a diverse and inclusive culture with transparency into progress toward goals. He pointed to an Edelman survey that found 60 percent of consumers will not buy from companies that do not share their views on social justice—which makes diversity and inclusion key to every business leader.

“The mechanics and programs through which diversity improves and goals [are] achieved should be driven by the HR function, as they are the experts in the people side of the business,” Cook said. “However, as with most HR programs, success comes from changes to manager behavior and people leader decisions, so there needs to be alignment from senior leadership down that the required changes are backed by the executive team.”

Cook calls people analytics the single most effective way to drive change: “From our experience with customers, constant access to the different levels of representation across the business, how these levels are changing, and how they compare to relevant benchmarks are essential to gaining executive buy-in and driving the actions to create change.”

Using this data to forecast realistic rates of change, the most effective ways of generating change, and aligning programs to these findings is a fast and cost-effective route to success. Without people analytics, DE&I programs risk becoming a “guess and hope” approach, and the track record for investing on this basis is poor.

Transparency and Honesty are Key

“First of all, I want to acknowledge that facilitating honest, candid conversations about diversity and inclusion is often a challenge because everyone has their own history, opinions, and experiences that inform their feelings,” Leslie Jones, founder and master facilitator at SpiralMethod, said. “That’s why it’s imperative to clarify the intention of the conversation before you launch an initiative or platform. What is the purpose of the conversation?”

Jones said it’s critical to be clear about diversity and inclusion goals in order to create safety. Once that’s established, organizations must design the conversation and create engagement that aligns with those goals.

“Are we gathering information? Looking to change policies? Intending to have our people feel heard? Do we want to bring more diversity onto the team? Are we assessing our culture and its levels of inclusion or exclusion? All of the above? Clearly communicating your intention and purpose is paramount to having a successful conversation,” Jones added.

If you’re going to hold these conversations without the goal of effecting change in your policies, that could make things worse. Jones thinks surveys could be helpful for gathering information and to send a message that management is interested and committed to the conversation and policy changes. “It’s so important to have a well-defined purpose for any survey,” she said. “I suggest that organizations bring together a diverse team to identify the purpose and then develop the questions.”

Second, it’s important to create a variety of answering mechanisms within the survey. There should be questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”; questions that can be answered through a rating scale; and some questions that allow for free-form commentary. 

Finally, organizations should provide anonymity in a way that it’s clear respondents are safe to provide honest feedback. “I would also recommend creating an option that allows for individuals to submit their identity and contact information for those participants who may really want management to acknowledge their contribution and follow up with them directly,” she said. 

Diversity Remains Key

For Erkang Zheng, founder and CEO at JupiterOne, the primary issue that comes with a lack of diversity is a lack of divergence in views and opinions when it comes to making decisions. “Every person comes from their own unique background and history,” he said. “The ability to empathize in different and deeper ways creates a well-rounded discussion for problems facing the cyber security team and the overall business.”

Diversity affects everything from empathy to individual thought processes. “Everyone comes from different backgrounds and life experiences and this impacts how they approach their day-to-day life,” Zheng said. “Every team should be as diverse as possible to ensure that the highest level of efficacy and divergent opinion is brought to the foreground.”

To Jones, inclusion comes first, and inclusion implies safety and equal value. “Inclusion is a culture where everyone has a voice and there is true engagement, and it’s about everyone feeling integral to the team. You can’t create diversity without inclusion,” she said. “If you have an exclusive environment, people won’t want to work there.”

Today’s workforce now demands that organizations take on diversity, versus just giving it lip service. “It’s not a marketing tactic,” Jones added. “A truly diverse workforce has actively demonstrated that all are welcome.”