I recently spoke to Judith Williams, the global head of diversity at Dropbox, about how to increase and sustain diversity in tech and the wider workplace.
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Unsurprisingly, Williams explains that the level of diversity in an organisation tends to increase as a firm focusses on improving the situation.
After a focussed effort in Dropbox to increase diversity, 2015 saw an influx of women into its technology department.
To achieve this in other firms, Williams suggests branching out when searching for candidates to avoid the common problem whereby people hire the “usual suspects” from their circle – who more often than not look and think in the same way they do.
Williams explains: “Most of us don’t have diverse networks.”
Commonly technology startups create their own diversity problem this way, as founders reach out to who they know without making an effort to “grow differently” and hire different types of people.
Introducing diversity to the workforce
The first step towards employing different kinds of people in the workplace is “making sure that we’re thoughtful about how unconscious bias can play out in that decision process,” according to Williams.
Reaching out to a different pipeline to attract different candidates, and re-considering the interviewing process are just some of the positive choices firms can make.
“It’s about thinking about the process every step of the way,” Williams says.
“Candidates need to see there are people like them in the firm.”
The controversial topic of quotas is often seen as both a way of introducing diversity in the workplace, but also causing issues such as “tokenism” to rear their ugly heads.
Rather than enforce a quota, Williams suggests ensuring someone has accountability for diversity initiatives so change can be monitored, as well as having a clear goal and a transparent approach.
“What gets measured, gets done.” Williams says.
Publishing the existing demographics of tech teams has been a better to way to drive positive change, as some firms were called out for their lack of diverse teams.
Williams says: “That allowed us to realise as an industry these are problems we need to tackle together.”
Also looking into industry collaboration can be important to tackle diversity issues as a whole, and partnering or volunteering shows dedication to causing a real shift.
After the recruitment
Statistics have shown a peak of women in technology in the 80s before a decline into the current slump, something Williams suggests shows there is a gap in the pipeline.
Williams urges that it isn’t enough to just hire more people from diverse backgrounds, but that you have to make sure they want to stay.
A shift towards a more diverse workforce should also be a shift towards inclusive culture where “everyone feels like they can be themselves” says Williams.
As a small but powerful example of how companies can accidentally exclude certain groups of people, she mentioned a firm where all meeting rooms were all named after famous historical scientists, all of which were men.
“What is it communicating to a woman who comes to work in an office and all of the conference rooms are named after men?” Williams asks.
The inclusion experience should not stop once people are in an organisation, and what social activities teams choose to do, how people are treated and a flexible environment are all factors that need to be taken into account to continue to promote a diverse future.