What does it mean to have a diverse workforce in today’s global technology economy? In an effort to further explore the effects and results of a gender diverse workforce in technology, I looked at the impact of gender diversity from women who are currently working for technology companies.
Joanna Tong at Facebook
Sabine Delorme, Head of HR at tyntec, and Joanna Tong, Growth Manager EMEA at Facebook, both entered the technology industry because they were interested in working with forward-thinking people and wanted to be part of businesses driving innovation. Yet, the lack of diversity within the technology industry doesn’t enable innovation to its fullest potential. A workforce of all relatively young males, while creative and smart, lack varying perspectives and experiences that can create groupthink (lack of individual creativity in group interaction) and miss alternative viewpoints that drive new thinking and fulfill the needs of their customer base. Adding to the challenge is the expectation that women in the industry need to be more like men in order to be successful.
As a woman in tech myself, I recently spoke with Sabine and Joanna to hear their thoughts on gender diversity in the workforce and perspectives on what can be done to change the “face” of technology in order to avoid missing out on greater global impacts.
Q: What should companies be doing to improve diversity in the workforce and what needs to be done to maintain a higher level of diversity?
Joanna (Facebook): Companies can do a few things to improve diversity in the workforce:
1) Set the example — if you’re looking to hire more female engineers, for instance, promote and showcase the incredible female engineers you already have. And not just for public content that helps you attract talent, but in everyday conduct — give them recognition, added responsibility and new opportunities — that will enable them to advocate more strongly on the company’s behalf.
2) Enforce a quota at the top of the funnel — while you should always hire who is best for the role and company, it helps to give hiring teams a diversity quota to fulfill. This enables them to think outside of the box and gather candidates who may never have actively applied.
3) Don’t pigeonhole a hire — just because someone got hired for a specific role doesn’t mean they should stay there forever, you should hire ‘chameleons,’ people who are smart enough to adapt to many environments and roles. Give people the opportunity to learn and train in a new field if you can.
Sabine (tyntec): Leading by example is always a great start. If your board/executive level is diverse — chances are high that the rest of the company is also more diverse. Broadening the criteria of what you look for in candidates to avoid hiring the same kind of employee over and over again — is a great way to improve diversity in the workforce.
Q: Speaking about the gender gap specifically, what are some common myths worth noting?
Sabine: There’s a common myth that as a woman leader you have to adopt male characteristics in order to truly be successful. For example, women are often told that they need to be unemotional, they are told how to sit in meetings, and how to talk in a way that doesn’t play up their female characteristics. This myth needs to be busted. Women and men innately bring different attributes to the table, strengthening innovation and collaboration.
Q: In terms of the limitations of homogeneous work environments, does this hinder a company’s ability to satisfy their customer base that is often more diverse than their workforce?
Joanna: I think in general less diverse workforces, particularly in the tech sector have a disadvantage when it comes to addressing a global audience. When we build new products and services we have to do so with understanding and empathy for our target market. For example, it would be strange for a 50-year-old male to be building a product for a 13-year-old female if he didn’t understand the needs and requirements of such a target audience. Diversity in a workforce encourages not only empathy with a customer or user but also a diversity of opinions and approaches.
Sabine: I am convinced that companies with a diverse workforce are more successful as it increases their ability to understand the needs and requirements of their often more diverse customer base. The car manufacturer that had to recall their cars because of faulty airbags is an often-cited example of the difficulties companies run into if they are not diverse. The car recall was mostly due to the fact that the manufacturer only measured the airbags for the average male, resulting in women and children being injured in accidents because the airbags weren’t measured for their sizes.
Q: Do you think some of the world’s political and economic issues are tied to a lack of diversity in the workforce?
Joanna: I think economic circumstances more than political circumstances can have an impact. Take the scenario of a woman who just had a child, maybe after the first child, she can return to work since the cost of childcare is maybe just under what she takes home in a salary. Now add another child and suddenly the cost of childcare doubles and now it probably doesn’t make any financial sense to be at work and not to mention the added social stigma of a woman choosing to work instead of being a full-time housewife. Now for some women, investing in childcare (even if you are at a net loss) is an investment in your future career. Instead of being 5 years behind in your career you’re only 1–2 and your earning potential gets better because of this. But not everyone sees it like this and that’s a problem — sometimes it doesn’t feel like there is an option.
Q: What are some positive things you’ve seen that show that companies, particularly in the tech space, are moving toward improving diversity?
Joanna: I’ve seen companies promote unconscious bias training which is incredibly useful especially when it comes to hiring. You can’t always remove the biases you accumulate throughout your life but you can be aware of them and make an effort to counteract them. I’ve seen also flexible working initiatives which helps parents juggle their work and life but given my demographic, I like to see initiatives which focus on getting young females in tech into new opportunities.
Sabine: The first big step is the rising awareness that the tech industry has a diversity issue in the first place and that companies start to address the issues. However, it isn’t just the company’s responsibility. It is important to differentiate that this is also a responsibility that governments and individual people have and can only be tackled if it is a combined effort. For example, looking beyond the tech industry, governments are assisting schools in making STEM topics more approachable for girls. We are seeing improvements in the availability of affordable daycare and increased access to quality education for people that come from underserved backgrounds.