Diversity, or lack thereof, has long plagued Silicon Valley. It is no secret that African Americans, Hispanics and women have typically been underrepresented in the open offices of the Valley’s most notable tech giants.
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Tackling this challenge has not been easy, and in many cases marked by missteps. Twitter’s failed attempts at outreach have been well documented in the press. Other tech giants like Google and Facebook have been transparent about their challenges and even their numbers, but still struggle to make significant headway.
Veteran tech executive Donna Wells is looking to disrupt the disrupters when it comes to the faces of tech in Silicon Valley. Wells is the CEO of Mindflash, an HR solutions company with clients like Uber, Apple, Microsoft and Airbnb.
“In Silicon Valley we are struggling to get a workforce that looks like the rest of the country,” says Wells.
She says too many tech firms “don’t even reflect the demographics of the top tier schools they recruit from.” She says they should take a page out of the playbooks of organizations like the NFL, Harvard Business School and many high-profile symphonies across the country that have made great strides when it comes to diversity.
According to Wells, currently 38 percent of the Mindflash team is female, with women representing 50 percent of the executive team. Mindflash was also a 2015 Great Place to Work, and just made number 4 on Fortune’s list of 50 best workplaces for flexibility.
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For comparison, 70 percent of Google is male, with women making up only 21 percent of the leadership team. From a racial perspective, they are 61 percent white and 30 percent Asian, with Hispanics represented at 3 percent and African Americans at 2 percent. (It is important to note that Mindflash is a substantially smaller company. )
Wells says to be competitive in the global market today, you have to truly understand your customer, which means you have to reflect those you serve. Here is her advice to business leaders and hiring managers:
Lead by Example
“It starts from the top” she explained. “Our investors were willing to hire a female tech leader with a marketing background.”
In Silicon Valley this is certainly nontraditional and seen by many investors as a high risk decision. However, is the risk real or perceived? Wells points out that research has shown “statistically that start-ups founded by female founders outperform those founded by male founders.” Challenging assumptions and leading by example is a critical first step.
The Blind Audition
In a similar way to the hit show The Voice, many of the more notable symphonies around the country conduct blind auditions to take out both conscious and unconscious gender, age and racial bias. Wells believes that finding creative ways to adapt this decades-old practice could really help reduce those unconscious biases that seep into our decision making. Scrubbing resumes of indicators, blind portfolio evaluations and even blind tests are all good starting points.
Beyond Superficial Diversity
Wells strongly feels “it’s important to have diversity across many different dimensions.” When we focus on surface level diversity we are really looking more at appearance. Now, we do make a lot of assumptions based on appearance, many of which are entirely false. So, we do need to get past this. However, recruiters should also think beyond the traditional tech feeder networks and look to tap more unconventional, yet more diverse, industries if they really want to diversify their pool of candidates.
“I have hired professional athletes, restaurant managers, and construction workers,” says Wells. “Most tech executives wouldn’t give these folks a second look. The fact is these are fields that are more diverse and they also bring a deeper level of diversity when it comes to their personality, upbringing, and personal experience. The idea isn’t just to look diverse, it’s to actually be diverse.”