Diversity quotas are not always a welcome concept. Critics maintain that roles should be filled based on merit, rather than to tick a certain gender or ethnicity box. That said, the technology industry is about to feel the impact of two legislative bills in California centered on this subject.
Bill 826 requires all California-headquartered companies to have a specific number of women on their boards by the end of 2021, depending on the size of the board in question. Meanwhile Bill 979 requires these same firms to have a minimum of one director from an under-represented community on their boards by the end of this year, rising to two or three positions by the end of 2022 for any companies with five or more board members.
Setting some goals around women and minorities on boards has its positives, argues Carin Taylor, Chief Diversity Officer at Workday:
If we set the goal, we will have that top-down approach where we're thinking more inclusively. We can also take what we're learning from those people who are joining those boards, around how do we keep them there, how do we make them a core part of our processes by them being on boards?
However, there’s not much point in setting diversity targets and achieving a more balanced board or workforce, if those people don’t hang around, she adds:
You can set the quotas and you can get people to come, but if people don't feel like they belong or they don't feel included, they're not going to stay. It's almost like just stopping at diversity and not thinking about the inclusive, belonging and equity piece. You've got to do both in order for this to be successful.
Taylor has worked in diversity roles at various companies for over 15 years, first at Cisco, then at biotech firm Genentech, prior to joining Workday three years ago as its first Chief Diversity Officer. Over that time, there hasn’t been the progress needed specifically for underrepresented minorities, a fact she attributes to three different factors.
Firstly, diversity needs to go further and incorporate inclusivity and belonging as well; secondly, it has to touch every employee in the organization and be everyone’s responsibility, not just that of the diversity or HR team:
When you only focus on diversity, you have what we call the ‘leaky bucket problem’. And what that means is that you do a great job of bringing people into your company, but your racially or gender-diverse employees leave your company just as quickly because they don't feel like they are included or they belong.
Finally, there’s a challenge around how to achieve the diversity targets that are set. Firms may have been intentional about setting the goals, but less so about how they actually achieve them. Taylor explains:
We've all said, ‘We want to increase the number of women or increase the number of ethnic minorities in our companies’, but if you haven't actually put the processes in place to create that change, how are you going to understand what needles you are trying to move and then what are the actions you need to take to actually move those needles?
So instead of just saying, ‘How come I don't have more women coming through the hiring funnel?’, I can now specifically say, ‘Women are dropping out at the interview stage’, as an example. Then I can hone in on the interview stage and understand what I need to fix there, as opposed to thinking more broadly and not being super intentional about what you're trying to move.
To ensure Workday is achieving its diversity goals, the firm established the VIBE approach – Value Inclusion, Belonging and Equity – and launched two related products to make it easier not only for Workday to measure its own progress, but for customers too. VIBE Central offers a single location to view all of a company’s diversity reports and dashboards, while VIBE Index is a way for to measure belonging and parity across points of intersection, such as race or gender, for example. The former is currently available to customers, while VIBE Index will be released later this year.
Workday has also set up a accelerator team, made up of around 20 employees from sales, engineering, marketing, HR and analytics, who have all taken a pause in their normal careers to do diversity work for a year. Members were nominated by the executive leader for each division, with representation for different ethnicities and genders, as well as people outside of North America.
The group has identified four different areas for Workday to focus on: hiring and developing diverse talent; cultivating a culture of belonging; strengthening its communities, both internally and externally; and building inclusive products and technology.
The firm has now set specific goals and commitments around these four areas to strengthen its belonging and diversity efforts. These range from doubling the number of Black and Latinx leaders by 2023 through to investing in 25,000 hours in workforce training so that managers know how to hire diverse talent. Another goal is to ensure there's less than a three percent difference in belonging for all staff, when measured across gender, ethnicity and generation, and investing 250,000 volunteer hours by 2023 to support under-represented communities. Taylor says:
We've invested $10 million towards social justice initiatives that we will be focused on over the next year or so. That includes how we as an internal organization increase workforce empowerment of people and underserved communities; how we as employees do volunteering in those communities or mentoring or sponsorship; how we train people who may not have gone through a normal path into the workplace. Maybe you didn't get a four-year degree, but how do we make sure that we can up-skill those folks to be able to get really good careers in technology, so that they can start to strengthen not just themselves as individuals, but their communities around them as well?
We also have a goal to ensure we have X number of customers who are on VIBE Index by the end of the year. All of these things are the types of goals that we have in reference to the work that this accelerator team is doing.”
Another area Taylor would like to see more of is the technology sector joining forces to help tackle some of the issues around racial equality:
That’s going to be a big opportunity for tech companies going forward. The way that we are continuing to think about this is how we come together to help solve some of this, as opposed to just letting each and every one of us do it on our own.
The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor really lit a fire underneath the world in terms of highlighting some of the challenges that are happening specifically within the black community. It's created this sense of urgency around this work for many companies, but especially in the tech arena. We’ve seen deaths of Black people over and over and over again, and we see the swell of anger and attention to it, and then it quickly dies down. This is the first time that we've seen it sustained this long.
One of the challenges and opportunities that we have as a society, but specifically within tech, is how do we keep the momentum going?
The struggle around racial diversity will long continue, and there is no perfect answer for doing it the right way, but as Taylor notes, when firms do take steps to increase their focus in this area with something like an accelerator team, change does happen.