The issue of workforce diversity has been in the news a lot lately, and rightfully so. Diversity data is pretty dismal, particularly in the technology industry. Essentially, there is a long history of white males disproportionately holding leadership roles and minorities being immensely underrepresented. You already knew that though.
What I’ve been agonizing over is what do we plan to do about it at Mediacurrent? We began the process of recognizing that diversity was a problem we could improve. Essentially, this adversity can be used as a learning opportunity. This was also a personal struggle as well - after all, I am another white male in a leadership role. Who am I to be talking about diversity when I am not diverse myself?
Mediacurrent has a long-standing track record of excellence within the open source software and Drupal communities. I’m incredibly proud and humbled by our amazing team. The people at Mediacurrent are some of the most collaborative, giving, positive, and supportive individuals I’ve ever met. This also means we have an opportunity to leverage our position in the technology sector as an example of what other digital agencies or companies can do to improve diversity. However, I want to be clear. We are not making the issue of diversity a top priority for purely altruistic reasons or social pressure. While benchmarking against other technology companies can be difficult, the anecdotal feeling is that we would probably be fairly average compared to companies our size (75+- employees) when it comes to diversity. The primary point is we can be doing better.
We are doing this because businesses that support a more diverse workforce attain greater productivity. We owe a commitment around improving diversity to our customers. We owe improving diversity to our team because it will help with their own professional growth and development. The thought I’ve shared before is that if we had a company-wide retreat and everyone in the room looked and acted the same it would make for an incredibly uneventful outing. Different perspectives should be encouraged and welcomed.
In 2018 and beyond, here is what we are committed to changing:
1. Collecting and tracking employee data. We are starting this effort by publicly posting our own employee data. What does this change? It has been validated by renowned business books like “Good to Great” that profitable, sustainable companies improve by knowing their numbers. Diversity should be no different. To confirm, we are not mandating quotas v. sharing a belief that best-of-class companies tend to keep score. For us, this will include items like the demographics of our employees, promotions or roles that involve more progressive responsibility, tracking those who are in a position of management or leadership, and striving for continuous salary equality for those who perform a similar role and have previous experiences that led them to Mediacurrent. What is the end game? The goal is education, consistent improvement, and increasing awareness around these issues.
2. First impressions about diversity are critical. We will incorporate diversity training as part of our new hire orientation schedule. This will include sharing clear processes around how to get engaged with a cross-section of coworkers, sharing why diversity matters, and the protocol for how to provide feedback or concerns.
3. Re-thinking how we recruit and our overall interview process. If we continuously use the same sourcing methods to hire, how can we expect different results? We have started to change hiring processes for those in leadership roles particularly. For instance, we want to ascertain feedback from those who may not have historically been involved with hiring. We are setting goals to ensure minority representation in interviews is happening since “likes tend to hire likes.” We also want be clear on the “why” around promotions, no matter the demographic.
4. Focus on more outreach. Our team at Mediacurrent speaks and writes a lot. This means we have a platform to make a difference. For example, I am committing to reaching out to historically black colleges and want the next generation to be aware of the opportunities that exist within open source technologies. This is such a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs and those in positions that have hiring responsibility. Open source software projects like Drupal must embrace ideas around scaling; becoming a shining beacon for engaging underrepresented groups could be a path to help achieve this. Recently, Mediacurrent sponsored five people (four co-workers and someone from our local community) to attend the Atlanta Women in Technology Awards ceremony. We want to continue to amp up our involvement around initiatives that promote diversity in technology - if you have a suggestion or any first-hand experience with nonprofits that you would recommend please let me know in the comments below.
5. We need to do a better job of listening. I am guilty of convincing myself that if I tell our team that “we have an open door policy” that they will pro-actively seek me out. The reality is upper leadership can often be seen as working in a bubble. What we need to be doing is actually inviting people inside the door more often. We have also been adopting an open book management philosophy where collective problems and challenges are shared. I am committing myself to more 1x1s with underrepresented groups at Mediacurrent to try and empathize with the challenges they are confronted with. Hopefully, this leads to a better understanding of issues in general and positive change moving forward.
Will any of this work? Can we keep improving diversity at Mediacurrent? I am not sure. In this type of situation though, I am a firm believer that trying and failing is always better than the alternative of doing nothing at all.
What ideas do you have around improving diversity in technology? I would welcome and be appreciative of your feedback.