The importance of building diverse technical communities
Building diverse teams is a subject that is on everyone’s minds and quite rightly so. Women make up only 15% of UK STEM roles. This reduces to 5% of women in senior positions in the technology industry.[i]
Building Diverse technical communities, where do I even start?
Diversity, Inclusion, Empathy, Awareness…. So many terms, where do I start? To simplify it, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance” (Verna Myers).
The problem is, that even once you have clarified what you are talking about, you need to ensure others are on the same page. Other people may have different interpretations, and this is a huge barrier. How is it possible to have constructive conversations and take action if you are still trying to bring people along with you on what the foundations are?
On top of these initial challenges, there is also the chance at failing. This normally comes from Access Fail.[v] This is a combination of precedence, ignorance, lack of planning, no budget, austerity and negativity. The purpose of this blog is to showcase the importance of diverse teams, to help you understand what diversity means to your business and provide you with steps to making your business more inclusive. Hopefully, by setting all of this out, it will bring you one step closer to a genuinely diverse and inclusive outcome.
The importance of diverse teams
While hiring diverse teams is clearly the right thing to do, it is also an opportunity for business profitability and innovation. In a Forbes study, inclusive teams make better business decisions 87% of the time, are 2x faster, with ½ the meetings and deliver 60% better results.[vi]
There is a positive correlation between diversity within executive teams and performance. If we take a deeper dive into gender-balanced executive teams, a 2017 McKinsey study showed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability compared to those in the 4th quartile[vii]. Furthermore, companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity were 33% more likely to experience outperformance.[viii] This is further evidenced by another study that showed that without diverse leadership, women are 20% less likely to win endorsement for their ideas. For LGBTs this increased slightly to 21%, and for people of colour the figure is 24% [ix]. This problem does not lie simply with giving credit where credit is due, but by not endorsing ideas it creates a stale environment where innovation and creativity are not encouraged, which may be reflected in your product and services. Furthermore, women buy 80% off all consumer goods[x], so building products built by men without a good understanding or key insights into the end-user is not logical.
Examples of diversity not being present in business decisions includes the standard office temperature that was developed in the 1960s around the average metabolic rate of the average man. In a recent study this show this overestimates female metabolic rate by 35%, meaning offices are 5 degrees too cold for the average women. Does this explain why your female colleagues are wrapped up in jumpers, blankets and hot water bottles in summer? An example more serious than being cold at work is the fact that cars were designed using crash-test dummies based on the average male and has resulted in women being 47% more likely to be seriously injured, 71% moderately injured and 17% more likely to die in a car accident. [xi] We have now realised that not only are diverse teams critical to business profitability and innovation, they are also pivotal to a product of services usability.
When implementing a D&I initiative have you ever heard; “It only benefits one person” or “The rest of the office doesn’t understand”? It’s time to challenge the assumption that these initiatives only benefit the minority, instead, it is crucial to appreciate that they can have a much wider impact. This theory is known as the “Curb Cut Effect” and is where making public spaces accessible to people with disabilities helps everyone[xii]. I can share an experience we had at eSynergy recently. Our workforce has almost 20% “known” proportion of neurodiversity; this difference in thinking is known to not work well in loud, brightly lit work environments AKA our sales floor. We recently turned one of our meeting rooms into a “quiet room”. When it opened people did not understand what it was for and in a recent review, people thought it was only for those that had a diagnosed condition and did not want to abuse it. It is now used by all levels of staff from people that suffer with migraines, to managers that need to work without interruption, for concentration, to work with confidential documents and sometimes even just to process thoughts when a person’s private life may be getting too much. When explaining why quiet spaces are so important to employees that did not understand, we asked them “Why do you put your earphones on the tube?”. We rarely got the answer to listen to music, it was normally to relax after work, personal space, focus… This same logic can be used when implementing a quiet room.
For community activities that are designed for the masses, small steps can be taken to make them more inclusive. After all, diversity attracts diversity. Take the example of a tech meetup – normally beers and pizza right? For pregnant women, religions such as Islam and Janism, dietary conditions such a celiac disease and lactose intolerances, this would not be an appealing way to upskill themselves. As a result, they would miss out on building bonds with their colleagues, wider personal networks and learning opportunities. The people who do attend would also miss out from the contributions that they could have had from those who felt they had to or wanted to stay away. Simple changes such as having lunch and learns, breakfast meetups, offering soft drinks and ordering different catering options could make these tech meetups much more inclusive. At the same time, it is important to see that changes such as these don’t necessarily require big budgets.
Understanding what diversity and inclusion means to your business
Before you can take steps to being inclusive you must first scope out what diversity and inclusion mean to you and your values.
For every business we have supported, we have found that each business has their own definition of being diverse and inclusive. This can range from empathy being at the forefront, policy-led initiatives, diversity being at the heart of recruitment or policies being created for the people by the people. Whatever it is, it is important to be open about this and encourage participation.
Steps to become more inclusive:
- Make flexible working available for everyone
- Widen support network by creating communities
- Encourage D&I allies and champions
- Remember: diversity attracts diversity
- Make diversity at the heart of the recruitment process
- Force your team to look in the “right” place when hiring
- Showcase career path opportunities for everyone
- Make D&I initiatives accessible to everyone and vice versa
- It’s not always about recruitment, don’t forget about retention
In my next blog, I will take a deep dive into each inclusivity step. In the meantime, if this is something that your organisation needs support with, please get in contact. [email protected]
[i]https://www.pwc.co.uk/who-we-are/women-in-technology/time-to-close-the-gender-gap.htmlChallenges organisations face
[v] Ben Fletcher, Access all areas: A guide to better living for all of us, Monki Grass
[xii] Alex Chan, The Curb Cut Effect, Monki Grass