Exploding More Myths About Diversity: A Report Card for the Tech Industry

Feb. 19, 2018

BY TARA MATAMOROS CARTER

 

In part one of this series, we demonstrated that myths about diversity in the workplace simply don’t stand up to even a cursory examination. Tangelo is living proof of the strength that diversity brings to the business world. Our breakout success as a venture studio and innovation lab grew organically from the rich mixture of talents that we’ve brought together from across many walks of life.

Our business model validated the conclusions from a recent study by Boston Consulting Group, which found that “the secret of making diversity work appears to be to apply the concept at multiple levels — to address diverse dimensions of diversity, and to be open to diverse routes to achieving success.”

We offered evidence on how a community of diverse minds underlies true innovation. Incorporating original patterns of thought opens up possibilities that simply don’t exist inside a homogeneous group. Diversity in the workplace represents the world as it really is outside corporate walls. Only the broadest spectrum of human experience can speak with authority to a diverse public starved for new ideas.

A Diverse Workforce Is Better at Understanding the World

In the words of SAP’s Alex Atzberger, “We know that an inclusive workplace creates value for organizations. An inclusive workplace creates 39 percent more customers satisfaction — why? Because you actually connect with the customer better, you actually match to the customer.... It's not just about gender diversity, it's also about racial diversity, sexual orientation, or differences in age or generations; it's about how do we think about embracing diversity."

For me personally, the struggle to be heard and treated with basic human respect has been far more than an abstract concept. It has been a sometimes brutal fight with very real consequences for myself and my family. I have been fortunate enough to overcome domestic abuse, institutional prejudice and more with the support of a strong, diverse community of survivors, and I am proud to now work on a team that knows first-hand the scope of the challenges we still face. Our co-founder Antonio Altamirano has been an inspiration to all of us in how he built a new life for himself despite enduring a life filled with injustice under successive corrupt military regimes in Ecuador.

Uniting a Chorus of Voices: The WalkWoke App

Beyond funding and nurturing the growth of disruptive business models, one of our recent initiatives brought next-gen tech to the people who need it most. In creating the WalkWoke app, we’ve concentrated all of our backgrounds to help unify activists of all kinds around the world and amplify their messages, to broaden their reach and deepen their impact.

As Tangelo’s co-founder Rebecca Altamirano wrote, “WalkWoke’s ethos square with our solemn duty to develop future leaders with a rock-solid ethical core. In the end, we must teach our children the imperative of righteous resistance so that they will indeed have the needed muscle memory to act when they do witness injustice.”

Diversity Drives Financial Performance and Market Value

The central message we want Silicon Valley to hear is that diversity translates into financial performance and measurable market value. By incorporating difference and amplifying the voices of the under-represented, we have gained a longer runway, shattered closed-minded assumptions and ramped up our access to capital to fuel the growth of like-minded and disruptive mid-sized firms wherever we find them.

At a time when so much is at stake and shocking inequalities filter into newsfeeds every day, it has been frustrating to come up against the tech industry’s curious ambivalence on the subject of diversity. Too often, what tech firms promote as a diversity-first mindset ends up being little more than “virtue signaling” or lip service, mere gestures toward acknowledging one or two facets of diversity.

The reality is far more complex, as echoed by Michael Hyter, managing partner at talent search firm Korn Ferry. “Representation of women and people of color in the C-suite is embarrassingly low. No executive gets a pass on race and gender diversity in favor of abstract ideas of diversity such as cognitive or personality differences. We can’t let core definitions of diversity become collateral roadkill in our pursuit of truly diverse business cultures.”

Hyter cited research establishing the value of diversity such as the fact that women in leadership positions are positively correlated with higher returns; that a combination of racial, gender and other types of diversity of the workforce matters much more than selection of one diversity factor alone; that stretching our minds by being around different kinds of people improves our cognitive reasoning.

Tech’s Overall Diversity Grade: C+

If we’re really grading on the curve here, diversity in tech remains sorely lacking. Tech leaders have been aware of this situation for a long time, and yet very little has been done to correct these fundamental breakdowns in hiring practices.

The reason tech scores a passing grade instead of a straight out “F” is that there is hope. In our experience, there are many bright lights on the horizon for the next wave of tech leaders to disrupt the prevailing culture and set a new standard of excellence.

Exhibit A: Ascend Foundation found that representation by black and Hispanic workers in Silicon Valley has actually declined recently, even as the gender pay gap has closed a bit. Part of the reason for the advance on the gender equality front is that many headlines have concentrated around issues like Ellen Pao's gender discrimination lawsuit, disputes over a widespread sexist culture at Uber and a federal investigation into pay discrepancies at Google. While some inequalities are being addressed, anything that has slipped out of the spotlight tends to be neglected.

Exhibit B: Despite a great deal of investments like Intel’s $300 million to improve diversity in the tech sector, statistically not much of anything has changed in recent years. 2017 was an extremely difficult year for women and minorities, even though, as CNET reported, “Study after study has shown that more diverse teams are more creative and innovative. Companies with diverse leadership are more profitable."

A sobering infographic by Information is Beautiful lays out precisely what is wrong at 23 of the largest tech firms, which do not resemble the diversity of the US population at all. Knowing their lack of diversity, large tech companies showed minimal diversity changes in the 12 months prior to the infographic figures. The ratio of women increased by 1% at Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and eBay and Google, Apple and eBay had a 1% increase in the ratio of non-white employees. Take a peek at the interactive version of Information is Beautiful’s graphic to see the minimal changes between 2014, 2015 and 2016. These specific firms don't really deserve to be singled out, though, because they are only representative of the larger issue.

Source: Business Insider

Exhibit C: Even those who recognize that there is a disconnect between what tech companies say and do about seeking diversity in hiring practices don’t always see it as a problem. Apple’s VP of diversity famously sparked a wildfire of debate by saying, “There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men in a room and they’re going to be diverse, too, because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation.”

Although she clarified her comments and said she regretted her choice of words, her statement and ones like it have been deployed to justify exclusion and related unethical behaviors. Like the scandal that erupted over a Google employee’s complaints about discrimination against white males, the idea of “cognitive diversity” has derailed initiatives on racial, gender and many other types of diversity that has been too long ignored by the tech sector.

The Most Important Fight of All

There’s no question this is a long fight with an uncertain future, but this may be the most important fight of all for the soul of a society. In the service of creating the kind of world we want to live in, Tangelo has fearlessly beaten the odds by prioritizing multi-faceted diversity as a core company value. Our success as a new kind of venture studio serves as living proof that diversity delivers value – both financially and ethically.

Tangelo is smashing down whatever barriers we come up against by standing up for inclusiveness, looking at the issue of diversity holistically (including the eight most common facets of diversity) and thriving as an uncommon collective in the center of Silicon Valley. We have stayed true to our roots as a tech firm founded and built by immigrants and women. We know we are on the right side of history on this and look forward to working with partners who share our commitment, no matter where they come from or what challenges they are facing today.

BY TARA MATAMOROS CARTER
DIVERSITY, TECHNOLOGY, FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE, WORKPLACE DIVERSITY, DIVERSITY MYTHS, DIVERSITY VALUE