In June of 2017, Google released their numbers on diversity for the fourth year running. They cited progress, talked about key initiatives that they felt were making a difference in changing the demographic makeup of their organization. They announced a new VP of Diversity. Just two months later, an engineer at Google published an essay, claiming (among other things) that there were biological differences between women and men that made women less successful in tech roles. The essay went viral, and Google found themselves on the front page again, for all the wrong reasons.
A year later, Google has again published their annual diversity results and the results are disappointingly familiar. White men represent 70% of their workforce. Their highest rates of turnover are among minorities, showing that despite efforts to create a workforce that more closely represents the demographic breakdown of their users, their efforts are falling far short of expectations.
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives in the US have a surprisingly short history. In 1948, President Truman used an executive order to eliminate segregation and discrimination in the armed forces. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act made it illegal for companies to discriminate based on gender, race, religion, or national origin. In 1987, Secretary of Labor William Brock commissioned a study that was later published as Workforce 2000: Work and Workers in the Twenty First Century. This is widely viewed as the beginning for the recognition by organizations that diversity and inclusion represent a key element in hiring and talent strategy practices.
Just a few weeks ago, Boston hosted one of the largest biotech industry conferences. The BIO International Convention, drawing nearly 16,000 attendees, took place over four days in early June. As an organization, BIO champions diversity in the biotech industry, yet one of the events associated with the show featured topless female dancers with logos of sponsors painted on their bodies.
Over the last decade there has been a surge of resources and focus on D&I. From new positions such as Chief Diversity Officer to initiatives such as unconscious bias training, companies are investing heavily in attempts to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce.
We can trace the rise of the Chief Diversity Officer to the early 2000s. In 2005, fewer than 20% of the Fortune 500 had a dedicated CDO. Today that number is over 60%. In 2017, a coalition of 175 CEOs came together to expand the reach and impact of D&I initiatives. It’s clear that there is a strong focus, but the results remain mixed.
On May 29, Starbucks closed nearly all of their retail stores to deliver a mandatory training program on cultural awareness after two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia café in April. They were reported for suspicious behavior by the white store manager when they asked to use a restroom while waiting for a business associate.
Even though the news on D&I is not all good, there is reason to believe it will get better. While Google and Starbuck look like steps backwards, the fact that we are hearing about these issues, and that organizations are responding to them is, in fact, progress. High profile discussions of discrimination, including the #MeToo movement, are shining a light on the business impact that D&I has the power to change. Organizations are seeing value in investing in inclusive practices, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because there are tangible business returns.
If the tech industry could be a more attractive destination for women, it would greatly increase the size of their talent pool. If Google could become a more inclusive environment for minorities, and their workforce could more closely resemble their customer base, they could improve their customer experience.
We could use more data on how diversity impacts the business bottom line. Nearly every article on this topic refers back to a single survey done by McKinsey in 2007 which showed a performance benefit to organizations that had more gender-diverse boards. While D&I has gained traction over the last decade, we are not yet close enough to even see the finish line. We are learning what doesn’t work, and organizations are beginning to be more transparent in terms of their progress, but moving forward we’ll need to focus on the elements that truly move the needle if we want to see more steps forward than steps back.