Diversity & Inclusion in the Tech Industry

Israel Greene, founder and owner of Greene Consulting Group (GCG), a boutique consulting firm focused on diversity, equity and inclusion strategy and leadership development, joins us in this Q&A to share his insight and expertise about the impact of diversity and inclusion in the tech industry and beyond.

But first, some stats on diversity & inclusion in the tech industry…

Compared to overall private industry employment, the high tech sector employs a larger share of whites (63.5 percent to 68.5 percent), Asian Americans (5.8 percent to 14 percent) and men (52 percent to 64 percent), and a smaller and of African Americans (14.4 percent to 7.4 percent), Hispanics (13.9 percent to 8 percent) and women (48 percent to 36 percent), according to data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

At the executive level, more than 83 percent of tech executives are white, and 80 percent are men, compared to the overall private sector where 71 percent of executives are men and 83 percent are white.

Nasdaq Inc. is pushing to require companies listed on its stock exchange to include women, racial minorities and LGBT individuals on their boards, in what would be one of the most forceful moves yet to bring greater diversity to U.S. corporations.

There is much work to be done regarding diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. As a hiring manager over the last 20 years, I’ve wanted to do more to successfully support diversity and inclusion in my teams, but have fallen short of my own aspirations. I realize that I have a lot to learn, so I reached out to my friend, Israel Greene, who runs a consulting business focused on helping organizations become more effective in this area. Diversity and inclusion are clearly pressing needs in most organizations today, and I think you’ll find Israel’s comments highly relevant.

Doug: Israel, I’m really happy we’re able to talk about diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the tech industry, in the context of BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color). For any of us who work in tech, it’s pretty obvious there’s a lot of room for improvement, especially in the upper levels of leadership.
Israel: Without a doubt, there is definitely work to be done.

Doug: Is there anything you’d like to comment on regarding where you see things standing within the tech industry right now?
Israel: Looking at all forms of tech, whether it be Fintech, Biotech, Telecom, ecommerce, whatever, I think you’re spot on that diversity is usually seen more at the lower levels, and there is little to no representation at the leadership level. I recall years ago, when I was in a leadership position at a telecom company I was one of the only directors of color in the region. So anytime the sales team would go into an organization where there was black leadership, they would invite me along so that they could have another face [person of color] at the table. Whereas before I wasn’t included in these types of calls.

All of a sudden, I became the token at these meetings, which isn’t a good feeling.  When it is presented like this, opportunities are often missed to groom younger talent so that they can contribute in a more inclusive way. So, to your point, there is in fact a diversity gap as well as an equity gap at the leadership level of these companies.

The tech industry is still playing catch up here. It still lags in its efforts, both from a line employee as well as a leadership perspective. And a good example is from an article in Wired in 2014. Several tech companies started to disclose the demographics of the workforce and the idea is to make this public, which means they will be held accountable. Ideally this creates a greater commitment, which means more effort, resulting in change. So, it’s been about five years since that article was published. And from then, up until now, very little has changed. Case and point is Apple, where black technical workers account for only 6%, a startingly low percentage considering the fact that 13.4% of the US population is black. And Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, you know, they’re all very similar in numbers. Think about it for a moment, these are the giants in the industry, obviously. But it’s a snapshot of what is taking place. Even stepping outside of tech, if you look at the Fortune 500 companies, only three CEOs are people of color. Does this sound like equity to you? The big question is, what’s causing this? And for me, I believe there are several factors ranging from the culture of the organization, hiring practices, the attention that they are giving to D&I initiatives, which usually proves to be an afterthought for many companies.

Doug: So when we talk about diversity and inclusion, what does that mean in the context of BIPOC?
Israel: Diversity is basically what makes us unique and different in the eyes of other people. And there are two categories to this, which are cognitive and protected characteristics. Cognitive is the diversity of thought, experiences, skills, personality, and behavior. Protected characteristics are things such as age, gender, sexual orientation, cultural background, and religion.

When you throw inclusion in there, this is really the act of being open and embracing those differences, you know, both the visible ones, and the not so visible ones. This is where the rubber meets the road in allowing employees to be their true authentic selves and perform to their full ability.

We also have to be able to give a fair playing field. Equity is all about fairness or justice in the way that people are treated. All three of these make the foundation and are needed. Otherwise you are sitting on a two-legged stool, and at some point it’s going to topple over

In a nutshell, diversity and inclusion for BIPOC means having a space where we are wanted, encouraged, and presented with opportunities to thrive.

Doug: Yeah, and what do you think is the social responsibility of our companies and ourselves in this topic?
Israel: For me, I have a philosophy that once you hit a certain point in your life, you have a moral obligation to give back. It’s what I would call “social leadership.” Obviously, companies are able to do so much more than any one individual, but that same philosophy carries over to organizations as well. The reality is the community is fueling your organization. Companies are benefiting from the community purchasing and using its services, so why would you think you shouldn’t have a social responsibility to feed back into that? Whether it is through mentoring and developing youth, job opportunities, or investing in other social programs that benefit the community, it looks different for every person and every company.

Doug: Beyond moral obligations, how does diversity and inclusion benefit companies?
Israel: That’s a great question. We have seen that companies that are more diverse at the higher-up levels recognize higher profit margins and higher revenues. The other key piece for tech is innovation. If you’re not innovating, and you’re not constantly ahead of the curve, you’re going to get left behind. Organizations have found that with a diversity of thought and diversity of people, innovation increases dramatically. So that’s one of the big things.

The other piece is to think about the diverse group of people who buy your product, and make sure your leadership and employee base represent that group as much as possible. You need diverse voices at the table to help you bypass and avoid issues. For example, last year in the U.S. and other markets, H&M released an ad of a little black boy dressed in a sweatshirt that said “coolest monkey in the jungle.” In the United States there is a historic a historic comparison of black people in monkeys.

H&M went through hell as a result of that ad. It’s imperative to have people at the table from different backgrounds who can challenge decisions that others may be blind to. The amount of money that H&M lost as a result of this one misstep is staggering.

Doug: Larger organizations are generally recognized for doing a better job regarding diversity and inclusion. They have formal resources, structure and expertise to support this. As individuals, what are some practical things we can do to help others?
Israel: There’s probably three or four steps, and I’m starting with the very basic. First thing is to open up a line of communication, these are what I call ‘courageous conversations.’ This is about seeing where people are right now and trying to understand how they are being impacted by everything that is going on.

The second thing is to be honest about where you or your organization is with your current strategy. If as a leader you look around the table and only see people that look like you, or through your management ranks, then this is an indicator that your company might have a problem with diversity and equity. At this point, you have to be very honest in what your efforts look like and you can’t be afraid to call the baby ugly. If we know that our culture is broken, we have to confront that thing head on. We need to say, “Hey, this is broken, and we are going to work on this.”

The third and easiest step (because it’s free and doesn’t require input from anyone else) is to challenge the unconscious biases that you might have. There are several free tools/assessments that can help with this. This can help you identify areas that might be limiting your decision-making skills and bringing diversity and inclusion into our organization.

The fourth thing requires a bit more effort but will prove to be one of the most effective… Implement a mentoring and sponsoring program. I don’t think enough companies do this. One of the major challenges BIPOC have identified as being a barrier for promotions, is having a sponsor or a mentor in the room who can speak on their behalf when they’re not there. And you know, just like we spoke about earlier, in many of these situations we do not have a seat at the table

Doug: Are you seeing any companies doing a good job of measuring this? You mentioned that there is a Wired survey, but are companies publicly reporting out these KPIs?
Israel: Actually, yeah, there are several. There was a report that came out from Bloomberg. The report summarized the feedback of the S&P 100, what they pledged and how they acted on topics of diversity, equity and inclusion. And this was immediately after the George Floyd murder. So out of these 100 companies, basically 87 companies made a public statement about racial justice. That’s another piece to this as well, your employees have a right to know who they’re working for, and what your stance is on topics like this. Out of the 100 companies surveyed 87, companies made a statement of which 79 of those companies pledge to give to organizations that supported either some level of diversity representation, education, or inclusion or black-owned businesses. The data keeps trickling down from there and I’ll jump down to the very end. The idea was to get these companies to disclose what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Ultimately out of the 100 only 25 fully reported the entirety of their demographics for their company. What this confirms is that there are a lot of companies talking about it, however very few are moving past the lip service. They need to move beyond that. A couple of companies that come to mind and have moved beyond lip service into action are:

At Accenture they recently hired their first female CEO. Then they hosted International Women’s Day celebrations and expanded their LGBTQ plus community. In total, they expanded the disability champions to more than 27,000 people. That’s just a few examples of things that they’ve done. It sounds like they’re doing structural things as well to make this real.

Another company that is doing it on a smaller scale, but equally as important is Whirlpool. I did some work with them and they’re implementing programs. You can see their commitment to diversity and the whole D&I culture. They take the time and make the investments in their employees from top to bottom. The programming includes everyone from the CEO to customer service reps. To ensure all schedules can be met, they have meetings over the course of a couple of days so everyone has access. They implement programming like this year-round and layer in other diversity and inclusion initiatives as well across the globe.

Doug: So in terms of a company, or an individual wanting to make progress in this area, what do you think are the biggest sources of inertia or challenges to overcome?
Israel: In a word, Buy-in. In order for programs like this to be successful, the importance has to be communicated from the top down.

The other challenge is moving beyond lip service. As I mentioned, of the 100 S&P companies participating, only 25 sent all the requested data, sending the message that, “hey, here’s what we’re doing, we’re truly committed to this.”

The biggest challenge is fully understanding the value of having a diversity, equity and inclusion program and being able to effectively draft a business case for this to be a permanent piece of the company’s values.

Internally, when trying to move this agenda forward, you have to be able to answer the right questions when it comes to a business case, which are:

  • Is it going to make us money?
  • Save us money?
  • Help us achieve organizational goals?
  • And if so, how?

Doug: It seems like being diverse should help companies in employee acquisition and retention, as well as getting more out of the employee, because they’re more engaged and able to provide more value.
Israel: Oh, absolutely. That statement right there sums it all up.

Think about your product and who you’re servicing. If you don’t know the demographic of who you’re servicing, or you don’t have that thought process at the table, you might be missing some very unique opportunities. And that’s where I believe a lot of these companies are really experiencing growth at that higher level, when we talk about companies having a diverse board or diverse C-Suite, they’re recognizing larger profit margins. I think that’s really where it’s coming from.

According a 2019 analysis by Mckinsey & Company, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile—up from 21 percent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2014.

Mckinsey & Company also found that in 2019, companies in the top-quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36 percent in profitability, slightly up from 33 percent in 2017 and 35 percent in 2014. The likelihood of outperformance continues to be higher for diversity in ethnicity than for gender.

Doug: Are there examples you’d highlight where what is being called institutional racism may play out in a work setting?
Israel: Absolutely. There are several areas where this shows up. A few are in unemployment numbers, salary and hiring practices. For several years the unemployment rate for African Americans was twice that of Caucasians. Research showed that more than one-third of jobs filled were through referrals. When you think about who is working at the company and who they are referring this greatly impacts those numbers. You may be thinking, you can’t fault someone for referring a good person that they know.

The systemic piece comes in when you look at how they know these individuals. Systemically neighborhoods have been racially segregated. Caucasians do not interact with minorities at work, home or in other places as much and largely do not refer them for the jobs.

These companies surely aren’t recruiting in those neighborhoods. Often times when a resume does come across the desk and is identifiable as a person of color there is an unconscious bias at play. So, we need to think about what recruitment, resume and application processes look like. Do we have tactics in place to remove the biases that are often associated with resumes that come from people of color? Where are we recruiting from? You then take and incorporate the wage disparity among white men and women and people of color, and the gap only grows.

Doug: Are there other questions you suggest that we ask ourselves?
Israel: Absolutely. At the very basic and individual level, the immediate goal should be to increase our self-awareness, and understand our personal blind spots. Change has to start with you, first and foremost, before you can make change in others. So a few basic questions.

First, who is in my circle?
This helps us to potentially identify blind spots and biases in our decision-making process and tells us a lot about how we treat others. So, if your experiences are only shaped by people who look like you, sound like you, talk like you, walk like you, then odds are you have a major blind spot, and who you’re bringing to the table. As a result you are are missing half of the colors that you need to paint the big picture.

Second, do my efforts sound too easy?
Meaning, am I putting enough effort into this? Am I giving up anything? What’s at stake? And if you ask yourself this question and there isn’t something at stake, then odds are the answer is yes, it’s too easy.

Think of it as a mountain, and your goal is to try and tackle this mountain. It’s been said that you have to give up to go up. And what that means is there’s some sacrifices that we have to make whenever we’re attempting to do the right and the big things in life. When attempting to get to that next level, there may be people in our circle where it’s time to move away from them that are holding us back or that will disagree with the direction you are moving. We have to understand that is totally ok, and part of the process.

Doug: Are there books you’d recommend to educate oneself on this topic?
Israel: Yes, three. What’s hot right now is a book called White Fragility, by Robyn DiAngelo.

Another is Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. This book explains what a caste system is, and how there is an unspoken caste system in America. And, The Warmth of Other Suns, also written by Isabel Wilkerson.

WANT TO READ MORE FROM ISRAEL? FIND ADDITIONAL Q&A FROM HIS TALKING B2B INTERVIEW HERE.

About Israel
Israel Greene is an accomplished speaker, certified leadership trainer and diversity executive. He is also the founder and owner of Greene Consulting Group (GCG), a boutique consulting firm focused on diversity, equity and inclusion strategy and leadership development. He has been listed as one of the Top Ten Trending DE&I Training Experts by All American Entertainment.

For the past 20 years, Israel has held a variety of leadership positions in companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 including serving as a global director for one of the industry’s fasting growing ecommerce consulting firms, leading cross-functional teams distributed across North America and Europe. Find Israel on LinkedIn.