I am a black CEO, not a CEO who happens to be black. My self-identity is steeped in my blackness and my humanity.
Yet, I find myself questioning the seemingly singular focus on numbers when it comes to assessing diversity and inclusion in corporate America, including in the tech industry.
There’s no question that diversity matters, and that data are a key component of evaluating diversity. The most comprehensive studies affirm that there is a significant correlation between a more diverse leadership team and financial outperformance. Moreover, the data reveal a penalty for those who underperform. Overall, companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were significantly less likely to achieve above-average profitability than were all other companies. As McKinsey notes in its recent report on diversity, “not only were non-diverse companies not leading, they were lagging.”
However, how we currently assess diversity is unduly limiting, tells only one part of the story, and fails to convey a lot of important information. For example, current data ignore a company’s efforts at inclusion, the level of commitment to advancing an environment that unleashes our human potential, and otherwise misses key elements to making the workplace more inclusive for more people with divergent perspectives.
In the tech sector, the existing data do not capture efforts to bring greater creativity and rigor to diversity through supporting initiatives like Howard West, an effort to recruit more engineers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities; adopting the “Rooney Rule” to ensure that underrepresented minority groups are considered for key positions; our strong commitment to ensuring that the future STEM pipeline reflects the broader population; or deepening our understanding of bias and translating that knowledge into building more equitable environments.
To be clear, I am not suggesting we should back away from quantifying diversity. There should be more comprehensive approaches to measuring efforts at creating a work environment where we can be our authentic selves, and where our identity is a platform rather than a cubicle constraining our employees and their achievements. Furthermore, the achievements we make in hiring a more diverse workforce will never yield the results we are striving toward unless we also provide employees with an environment where they feel their contributions are valued and they are able to grow in their careers. Without these elements, our companies will have trouble retaining employees and we will not see overall growth in diversity and inclusion.
At ITI, we have a team that reflects the world and delivers better ideas and results in part because of our diversity. In addition to focusing on specific benchmarks, we are diligent about reinforcing the importance of diversity and inclusion across the organization, have worked to integrate diversity into our business imperative, and have sought to be inclusive in our definitions of diversity.
Pointing to our workplace at ITI is not to suggest we have all the answers. We do not. But I do believe it’s time to start this conversation with an eye toward finding them, and no sector is better positioned to lead this exploration than tech because we have real work to do on diversity and are experts in bringing ingenuity to addressing challenges.
I know it may seem awfully convenient that someone from the tech sector is suggesting a broader approach. But that is not enough to dissuade me from urging that we consider a new way of thinking.
Perhaps a part of the solution is to borrow from sports, where there are advanced metrics like wins above replacement in baseball and personal efficiency ratings in basketball. These metrics combine various data to provide a more holistic view of the player that allows for comparisons across teams, leagues, years, and era.
Whether we call on sports or pull from elsewhere, actualizing human potential necessitates talking about diversity and inclusion seriously and trying new approaches. Chatting honestly about making diversity data less mythical and more all-encompassing is an important part of this conversation.