Do I Belong Here? Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

August 8, 2017 | By: Elise Gould | 5 min read

LTblog_Diversity_Embed_1200x628Despite a lot of talk and effort to change towards diversity and inclusion, major technology companies are still made up of mostly white men

Minorities and women are underrepresented in the tech industry.

Diversity and inclusion is a struggle in the tech world. Compared with their presence in the overall US labor force overall, blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans are underrepresented in tech by 16 to 18 percent, and women in the workplace are underrepresented by 19 percent, according to data from the biggest tech firms.

And it gets even worse at the top. Only 2 percent of tech executives are black, 3 percent are Latino and only 5 percent of leadership positions are held by women, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But isn’t workplace diversity good for business?

Yes, it is. A diversified workforce has been proven to be extremely beneficial in generating both new ideas and profits.

A report from Intel and Dalberg states that if two companies are identical in every way except for racial/ethnic diversity and female representation in leadership, the more diverse company will, in all likelihood, have higher revenues, be more profitable, and have a higher market value.  

The same report found that “Achieving representational racial/ethnic diversity could help the tech sector generate an additional $300-$370Bn in revenue annually; achieving representational gender diversity in leadership could help drive $320-$390Bn in increased market value.”

That’s “Bn” as in billions. BILLIONS, people.

Diversity also helps keep ideas fresh and drives away the dreaded group-think. While groups of similar people from similar backgrounds are more likely to share perspectives and less likely to identify their own knowledge gaps, racially and ethnically diverse teams are likely less susceptible to this bias. At the end of the day, diversity of people means diversity of thought.

Despite all of the benefits of having a diverse workforce, tech companies still seem unable to draw from and keep a diverse pool of talent.

Tech leaders have invested millions of dollars over the years to increase diversity in the workforce. However, racial and ethnic minority representation has only improved by about 1 to 2 percent over the past fifteen years, while female representation has actually fallen by 1 percent.

So, why aren’t tech companies more diverse?

It depends on who you ask. Leaders in tech companies (the majority of whom are men) tend to blame it on a “pipeline problem,” or a shortage of women and minorities with the right technical qualifications.

Leaders in the startup world say there aren’t enough women or minorities in tech because they’re simply choosing not to go into the field, according to First Round Capital’s poll of more than 700 start-up founders and CEOs.

Some businesses are taking the initiative to fix what they see as broken processes, within their own companies and the nation’s education system. Apple, Google, Intel, Facebook and others have spent hundreds of millions investing in education and revisiting their recruiting approaches in an effort to diversify.

But nothing seems to be moving the needle in a significant way. Perhaps leaders of tech companies are missing the root of the issue.

People get the feeling they don’t belong.

Underrepresented minorities working in tech cite unsupportive work environments, discrimination, intermittent harassment, isolation and a lack of relatable role models as the main barriers of entry into the industry.  

And those who get into the industry find plenty of reasons to leave.

White women are 1.5 times more likely than white men to leave the workplace, citing the cumulative effect of subtle biases; and people of color, regardless of gender, leave at more than 3.5 times that rate because of unfairness, according to a Corporate Leavers Survey conducted by Level Playing Field Institute.

The problem, in its simplest form, comes down to a sense of not belonging.

No matter their background, skin color or gender, employees all want one thing: to belong.

Why we need belonging in the workplace

We’re all genetically predisposed with a desire to belong. It’s literally hardwired in our brains. In fact, recent neuroscience research indicates that social needs are managed by the same neural networks as primary survival needs such as food and water.

Belonging: Acceptance as a natural member or part. A secure relationship or affinity, especially in the phrase a ‘sense of belonging.’

In addition to being linked to our survival, a sense of belonging is the single metric that’s consistently and universally connected to a person’s job commitment, motivation, pride and recommendation, according to Culture Amp and Paradigm’s Inclusion Survey for the tech industry.

According to the same survey, “the correlation between belonging and engagement was markedly stronger for historically underrepresented groups. While diversity and inclusion are important metrics in their own right, there is evidence to suggest that a focus on belonging can most helpfully frame inclusion initiatives in the workplace.”

In fact, research shows that decreasing threats to a person’s sense of belonging helps minorities and women significantly reduce stress levels, which leads to improved physical health, emotional well-being and performance at work.

Creating a sense of belonging can become the competitive advantage for any company. Here’s how you can take steps to start.

Short-term steps to building belonging in your workplace

Try taking one or all of these steps to start creating a sense of belonging, which can help increase diversity and feelings of inclusion.

Identify and quantify the problem.

The first step in fixing the problem? Knowing if you have one. Take stock of your company’s proportion of underrepresented minorities at the company level, department level, in promotion and retention, employment duration and executive leadership. Compiling this data is a crucial first step in understanding the diversity gaps in your company.

This will give you a sense of what departments and positions have the largest areas of opportunity, and will allow you to measure growth.

Empower your team to set goals and create change.

Assemble a council or team from multiple departments across your organization (beyond the HR staff) to set up practices that include people.

Make the members of this group the champions of increasing diversity and task the team with developing inclusion goals and identifying metrics to track their progress. You can also incentivize managers to hire and retain underrepresented talent to meet these goals.

Check your hiring and interview practices.

If you’re not getting diverse candidates, make sure your hiring channels are diverse in terms of race, gender, class, age, location and ability.

Review your job post descriptions to make sure you’ve got language that attracts (not repels) women and underrepresented minorities. Avoid aggressive, masculine language and create job descriptions that sound like an invitation.  

In interviews, a simple way to level the playing field is by asking every applicant the same list of questions.

Create opportunities to bond.

Working together for 8-plus hours a day, people will most likely form social bonds, and all that time spent in collaborative efforts can help break down biases. According to a study by Wilder and Thompson, people form favorable views toward people with whom they spent time, even if they were people they previously disliked or had stereotyped unfavorably.

You can help foster positive social bonds by creating opportunities to interact, whether it’s through team structure, common areas in the office for social interaction, or even setting up a program that allows people to interact one-on-one over coffee, a meal or even a donut. If you’re able, it’s a classy move to pick up the tab on these types of events.

Set up a mentor program.

Make sure the feeling of belonging goes beyond employees feeling accepted by their peer groups. Mentorship programs can help your employees create trusting relationships with their mentors or managers.

Make sure to pair mentors and mentees based on experience, their goals and your company's objectives.

Be intentional.

Making people feel excluded can happen with the slightest, unintentional cues. A company photo on social media that doesn’t feature any underrepresented groups. A website that shows all senior executives, excluding people of color or women. Cliques within your organization. These can all undermine a person’s sense of belonging.

Culture Amp has some awesome approaches to help you make people feel included every day:

  • Ask for initial input on a project via a shared document rather than in a group meeting.
  • If a group meeting is the best way to collaborate, set aside a few minutes for all participants to put their ideas on post-it notes and have each participant stand up and put their ideas on a board, grouping them as they go.
  • Be clear about how decisions will be made, and don’t make decisions “offline” with a select few team members.

Ask yourself this one question.

At the end of the day, it comes down to taking personal responsibility. Creating an inclusive workplace culture and increasing diversity starts with being mindful of your own actions.

Make sure to ask yourself regularly, “How am I making others feel like they belong here?”

Breaking down barriers of diversity in the workplace starts with your answer.

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