Employees value diversity, equity and inclusion, and employers are making progress — but too many tech workers still experience discrimination during their careers.
That was a major takeaway from Built In’s 2021 State of DEI in Tech report, which we released last week. The data shows an industry that, as a whole, is making incremental gains in fostering a culture where people of all backgrounds can develop their careers and bring their whole selves to work. But far too many of us still can’t trust that we’re getting the same opportunities for advancement, or come from communities that remain underrepresented within our ranks. Where do you even begin to fix things?
In our conversations with individuals throughout the U.S. tech industry, we’ve been fortunate enough to encounter plenty of organizations that are relatively far along in their DEI journeys — and transparent enough to share that information with publications like Built In. When we asked relevant leaders at these companies about where that success has come from, it became clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution here. Every company is unique.
Instead of some magical combination of hiring practices, internal training and supportive communities, the traits that unite these businesses is a kind of mindset, a recognition that there is no silver bullet for discrimination in the workplace, that perfect diversity, equity and inclusion is not a box you can check and then set aside. Based on conversations with leaders at five successful tech companies across the U.S., organizations that reflect the communities they serve set and enforce goals, collect and share diversity data and recognize the need for ongoing investment in DEI.
An in-depth analysis of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the technology industry.
Set goals — and look beyond recruiting
Recruitment naturally draws a lot of tech’s attention as a place to boost diversity, and there are a number of ways to do so. As a logistics fleet management company, San Francisco-based KeepTruckin is, in the words of Director of DEI Kelly Gonzalez, “driving toward an internal demographic mix that reflects the communities in which we operate and fostering an inclusive culture to value and leverage that diversity.”
To that end, Gonzalez said the company has been training its hiring managers and interviewers on “best recruitment practices, unconscious bias and inclusive leadership.”
KeepTruckin’s goal — and the training programs it has designed to meet them — place it in a minority of American tech businesses. Our data suggests that less than half of tech employers are working toward leadership-approved goals around diversity hiring.
But bringing in a wider array of voices is only part of the puzzle. We also found that diversity metrics are evaluated at just 31 percent of companies when it comes to retention, while 37 percent considered diversity as a factor when they measured promotions and career advancement. Only a quarter of employers evaluated diversity metrics when measuring time-in-role.
“What you measure matters, and evaluating data regularly is a great way to hold yourself, your team and company accountable.”
And after all that, we’re still only talking about recruiting and people team metrics.
“It is more than just thinking about hiring,” said Taylor Roa, a manager of talent acquisition at Cambridge, Massachusetts video software company Wistia, when asked about his company’s DEI practices. “The conversation permeates how we work, how we facilitate meetings, even how we build our products.”
Instilling corporate culture with an atmosphere that supports and elevates all voices takes conviction. Employee resource groups create space for employees from underrepresented communities to compare experiences and support one another’s career advancement — but they need to be more than an afterthought.
“Our senior leadership is really involved with our ERGs,” said Stephen Stewart, director of talent brand and recruitment marketing at Colorado-based cloud communication company RingCentral. “They are ambassadors and executive sponsors of our DEI programs and initiatives because we know how important it is for leadership to get involved.”
The program is paying dividends in the long term — according to data seen by Built In, less than half of RingCentral’s leadership team identifies as white.
Collect the data and share it
For companies that consider their DEI programs relatively advanced, collecting and sharing data is a good first step. We’re not just talking about surveying the ethnicity, gender, age or LGBTQ+ status of individual employees. It’s important to gauge how included employees feel in the overall team; whether everyone’s career advances at a similar rate relative to their talents; whether everyone is paid the same amount for the same work; and if diverse perspectives are represented in leadership, as well as the rank and file.
“What you measure matters, and evaluating data regularly is a great way to hold yourself, your team and company accountable,” said Amaia Arruabarenna, a senior manager of diversity, equity and inclusion at Boston-based online catering marketplace ezCater. “Evaluating this data regularly will show if new initiatives are driving the positive change you hoped for and, if not, will provide you with the insights you need to pivot quickly to something more effective.”
Another use for DEI data is to share it with a wider body of stakeholders, including all team members, candidates and even the public at large.
“This work is continuous; there’s no checking the box with one or two action items and calling it a day.”
“I think the first thing a company should prioritize is transparency,” Wistia’s Roa said. “Avoid misleading potential candidates about what your team really looks like and where you have room for improvement.”
It’s also important to clearly communicate what diversity data is used for, he said.
And there are plenty of potential uses. For example, we found that 50 percent of white employees believe they are fairly compensated when compared to peers in similar roles. For BIPOC respondents, that figure drops to just 38 percent.
According to Christina Shareef, who serves as head of diversity, inclusion and belonging at San Francisco social network Reddit, the most successful DEI programs “shift paradigms to change hearts, minds and perspectives. This happens through continued education and candid conversations on important topics, as well as upholding commitments.” At Reddit, those commitments involve “proactive pay parity exercises,” she said. By clearly communicating the initiatives and policy changes that come from DEI data collection, organizations foster trust among employees.
Successful DEI is an ongoing process
Part of a successful DEI strategy comes from the recognition that this is not a “one and done” issue. Each program must form part of an overall strategy with clearly articulated goals. Reddit is currently in the process of moving beyond “individual diversity and inclusion programs” and integrating each program into a “larger strategy wherein inclusion is a lens that we are constantly looking through,” Shareef said.
“This will take time as we flex new muscles and gradually evolve our strategy,” she added, “but one of the most important components is continuing to hold ourselves accountable and constantly remembering Reddit’s values, including ‘remembering the human’ and ‘evolve.’”
As part of its own ethos that diversity, equity and inclusion must permeate all facets of a business, Wistia has assembled a cross-functional task force. “So far, we’ve clearly defined our three-year actionable DEI strategy and we are working with a consultancy to develop ongoing sustained DEI training for our organization moving forward,” Roa said.
EzCater’s Arruabarrena echoes the idea that DEI-related progress does not come from any individual program or a mere focus on hiring. “This work is continuous; there’s no checking the box with one or two action items and calling it a day,” she said. “Implementing training and new policies are great steps in the process, but they won’t work if not treated holistically and paired with other supporting and continuous actions.”
The point is to equip your organization with the resources it needs — including diversity data, dedicated DEI staff and training programs — and then tackle difficult subjects head-on.
“Like many companies in 2020, we could have shied away from talking about how identity impacts us in the workplace, or just state support for racial justice on social media,” Gonzalez said. “KeepTruckin didn’t shy away from these difficult conversations. Instead, we hosted inclusive roundtable discussions to address these topics head-on.”
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