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How to Improve Diversity in the Workplace

Hiring
Diversity

10 May, 2020

Vijay Gill, SVP Engineering at Databricks, shares some tips on how to improve diversity by attracting more diverse talent and ensuring they stay in the organization.

Problem

Research, including comprehensive statistics, shows that diverse teams have better business outcomes. In addition, from an ethical standpoint, equal opportunity principles and policies should be practiced throughout the hiring process and further by creating a fair working environment. Essentially, you want to do the right thing for both the business and the people. Personally, I’m a big believer in diversity - it increases opportunities and expands the talent pool. For example, if you are focusing exclusively on hiring men, you are removing half of the talent pool. Two main challenges in improving diversity are: how do you attract more diverse talent and how do you ensure that they stay in the organization.
 

Actions taken

Before taking any concrete action I like to deep dive into all available data and better understand the problem. Hiring data for recent college grads -- that is fairly quantified and void of bias -- shows that underrepresented minorities (gender and ethnic) tend to comprise about 50 percent of all applicants, depending on the size of the sample. Members of underrepresented minorities pass the interviews at the same rate but their acceptance rate is significantly lower. After talking to a number of people I learned that women engineers are more likely to accept an offer if there is a woman engineer on the interview panel. Therefore, whenever we had underrepresented minorities interviewed, we were to also include underrepresented minorities on the panel. Clearly, this had no effect on the pass rate but did affect the acceptance rate.
 

Also, instead of going to schools visited by everyone else, we went to schools with a significant minority presence aiming to expand the demographics we were reaching out to. The interviewing process, however, remained the same and we had the same pass rate since the interview is fairly quantifiable. But the acceptance rate significantly increased since we included minorities on the interview panel.
 

Once we had more members of the underrepresented groups in, the main challenge became how to ensure they stay in the organization. I came across research that shows how members of the majority and minority population tend to develop completely different workplace experiences and creating a culture of inclusion that is open to these experiences is of vital importance.
 

When a critical mass of diverse employees is attained, self-emergent networks that operate as informal support networks appear. In spite of our genuine support to women engineers, most of them preferred to talk to our first woman in an engineering leadership position. Understanding the importance of these self-emergent support networks and their potential to address a great number of relevant issues you should provide them with adequate support.
 

At last, one of the counter-intuitive insights that proved to be highly helpful was that certain aspects of office culture resulted in less inclusion. For example, playing ping pong or having a drink after work is not that inclusive since many people have family commitments or don’t drink and these team-building initiatives turned out to be harmful to the culture of inclusion. Therefore, try to separate business and fun time.
 

Lessons learned

  • Both challenges -- attracting diverse talent and ensuring their stay -- are equally important and both require the same amount of effort and concrete actions. The company should demonstrate that it is walking the talk by enacting good practice policies and models.
  • When you include members of underrepresented minorities in the interviewing panel and other activities aiming to improve diversity make sure that these people are interested in doing that, are good at that and will receive the proper support. Also, their work calibration and work evaluation should take into account that they are spending a lot of hours involved in these activities and that their feature productivity will be affected by that.

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