It’s time to end tokenism and diversity quotas.
5 min read
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I’m a dream hire for most technology companies. In an industry dominated by white, straight males, a lesbian with both black and Korean heritage checks a lot of boxes. And that’s the problem. In response to the demand for more diverse hiring practices, technology firms have resorted to quotas that ultimately miss the point.
I’m confident that many technology companies genuinely want more diverse workplaces. But tokenism isn’t the answer. Instead of treating diversity like a performance metric, tech firms need to find ways to make diversity and inclusion essential elements of corporate culture.
Tokenism dehumanizes the technology industry.
On a recent trip to Silicon Valley, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) noted that many of the biggest names in technology still fall short in maintaining racially diverse workplaces. Citing public reports, committee co-chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) chastised technology companies for failing to retain minority employees.
Lee makes a valid point. In addition to hiring challenges, tech companies frequently struggle to retain minority workers. In my experience, when you’re sitting in the office and everyone else looks different than you, it feels like you’re in high school again. You don’t feel welcome at the table and you wonder if anyone understands or supports you. For employees like me, it can be difficult to remain in that kind of workplace for an extended period of time.
On the surface, quotas sound like a good solution because they increase the number of employees with underrepresented backgrounds in the workplace. But, on a fundamental level, focusing exclusively on hiring and retention numbers is counterproductive. When diversity and inclusion are reduced to data points, it strips the human element from the business. Rather than evangelizing a recruitment approach based on a balanced cultural understanding and the exposure of candidates to an inclusive and egalitarian workplace, execs and HR leaders find themselves glued to spreadsheets and diversity reports.
So far, the alternatives to quotas have been tactics like the “Rooney Rule” — a practice Amazon uses to ensure the company interviews at least one woman or minority candidate for every position. Although well intended, the Rooney Rule (and similar practices) actually strengthens tokenism’s foothold in the organization.
Most of the tech leaders I’ve talked with aren’t intentionally tokenizing minority candidates. But, when the organization only features a handful of minority candidates, it’s hard to avoid treating them like tokens. If we want a truly diverse and inclusive work environment in the technology industry, we need to move beyond tokenism and hiring metrics. We need to pursue a more effective — and more human — approach.
Tech can do better than tokenism. Here’s how.
Tech has cultivated a reputation as one of the world’s most progressive and forward-thinking industries. We still have a long way to go, but I’m hopeful that our industry can provide a model for other industries to follow in the area of diversity and inclusion.
To get there, we’ll need to move beyond tokenism and get serious about weaving diversity into the fabric of our corporate cultures.
Focus less on numbers, more on culture and mission. Metrics measure results — they don’t create change. Currently, diversity and inclusion are notably absent from most technology companies’ missions. That needs to end. When you bake diversity into your organization’s mission and core values, it guides the company’s vision and actions. As a result, customers and other stakeholders understand that diversity is an essential component of company culture.
Implement blind testing. Discrimination (conscious and subconscious) happens early in the hiring process because many of the things that isolate employees (e.g., race, gender, age) can be determined visually. Blind testing helps employers understand applicants’ aptitude without the interference of visual cues. It also empowers candidates from underrepresented groups because it eliminates the nagging sense that they lack equal footing during the hiring process, especially if your organization is clearly struggling to maintain a diverse workplace.
Consider third-party resources. Third-party organizations offer a vital on-ramp to workplace diversity. They provide the perspective and expertise tech leaders need to holistically embrace diversity and inclusion as a core value in the workplace. From guiding the organization’s philanthropy to assisting in hiring practices to teaching leaders that diversity helps grow the business, third parties provide enable your organization to see what diversity and inclusion really look like.
At the end of the day, businesses exist to serve people, and they reflect the values of the people they count on to succeed. The personification of your business must include people from a diverse range of backgrounds — living, breathing human beings who are more than metrics or checked boxes.
By bringing everyone to the table and working to incorporate diversity and inclusion into the fabric of your company culture, you can take an important step toward abandoning tokenism and creating an industry we can all be proud of.