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Five Steps to Diversity by Design

July 29, 2015 by Janaki Kumar 3

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin

I previously described the delights of working in a diverse team but the reality is that many high-tech companies are not where they want to be when it comes to diversity. Here are five steps to build and foster team diversity in the technology industry.

1. Help build the pipeline.

The main reason that there is a lack of diversity in high tech is because the hiring pipeline has few minority candidates for managers to consider. This, in turn, is due to the fact that many minorities self-select out of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. This self-selection happens as early as middle school, when girls and minorities start to notice that there are very few role models in the technology world for them to look up to, and start to describe math and science as “boring.”

This is a personal passion of mine since I am the mother of three daughters. SAP sponsored the Girlssmarts4tech event in Vancouver and Palo Alto, and this year, I was invited to give the keynote presentation. This program introduces middle school girls to user experience and design, programming, music and technology, social gaming and 3D printing. The girls had an immersive experience and walked away with the knowledge that math and science applied in technology is far from boring.

We also invited the students of East Side College Prep program, a private school in East Palo Alto committed to opening new doors for students historically underrepresented in higher education. The students visited us to learn about being a professional in the high-tech industry. I was part of a diverse panel of leaders to whom the students asked insightful questions such as why we chose this profession and what does it feel like to come to work every day. Of course, these types of activities are intended to build the pipeline long term and are not quick fixes. As the Chinese proverb goes: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

2. Network in advance.

In most companies, the hiring process goes something like this: The manager gets a head count and needs to fill it as quickly as possible. So, the recruiter and the manager get to work and post the job in all the usual places. And, not surprisingly, they get the usual candidates. Widening the search takes time, so the teams that start early are in the best position to get a diverse pool of candidates.

In SAP’s Design and Co-Innovation Center (DCC), the team and I make the time to speak at universities and meet-ups to create awareness of the type of work we do, even before it is time to hire. This strategy helps us find the candidates who have the passion for our work, and we keep them in mind when the time comes to hire.

3. Avoid “token” hires by involving the team.

We all have heard of the “token” diversity hires that end up being unsuccessful since the team believes they were hired for their gender or race and does not accept them. They feel alone, under a microscope, and are not set up to succeed. To avoid this situation, involve the team in the hiring process, so they see the merits of the candidates firsthand and are committed to helping them succeed.

Involving the team has the added benefit of leveraging their network to spread the word. So, as the team gets diverse, it becomes easier and easier to become even more diverse.

4. Create an inclusive culture.

Hiring is only the first step. To sustain diversity in your organization, you need an inclusive culture, and this takes effort. Inclusion takes times since it involves a lot of listening, deep understanding, sometimes compromising, but I have found it is always inspiring.

An inclusive culture challenges us to be the best versions of ourselves every day. Positivity, respect, empathy, professionalism and trust are the values that form the foundation of an inclusive culture. Contrast this with a workplace filled with negativity, disrespect, callousness and cynicism. Where would you rather work? A diverse workplace is good for all.

5. Focus on the customer.

Ultimately, the goal is to have a team that is diverse but not to focus on its diversity. Rather, the team should be focused on delivering customer value and doing awesome work. As a leader, your primary job is to set an objective goal that allows all team members to make meaningful contributions irrespective of their gender, nationality, age or ethnicity. Customer focus is the great equalizer, and before it, all differences melt away.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Top image: Shutterstock

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