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Workplace Diversity: A Matter of Principal or Principle?

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The idea of a “business case for diversity” has been around for at least 30 years. The thinking is that companies should do more than merely comply with EEO and affirmative action laws. They should pursue true workplace diversity. By hiring employees from a broad range of backgrounds and cultures, businesses can create a diversity of thought and perspectives that will impact positively on both revenue and reputations.

There is research to support the concept. A study by Boston Consulting Group found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation. And innovation is a particularly valuable commodity in the tech industry.

Last October, The Wall Street Journal published the results of a study which showed, among other things, that companies with diverse and inclusive cultures enjoyed a competitive edge over those that did not. In a ranking of industries by their overall diversity and inclusion scores, IT landed squarely in the middle; not as good as the financial institutions, but better than the energy sector.

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The Journal study also pointed out that workplace diversity gives companies an edge in attracting younger workers in a highly competitive hiring arena. According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2020, 63% of millennials said they would consider quitting if their employer didn’t prioritize diversity and inclusion.

On first look, then, it would seem that workplace diversity is good for business. But in a recent article for Fast Company, Dr. Sarah Kaplan argues that it’s not. As she points out, the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap report shows that North America is still at a pace 100-150 years away from achieving gender parity. Europe is 50 years away. And according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, racial equality is also still a far-off goal: Hiring discrimination against Blacks has remain unchanged for 25 years.

What Went Wrong?

In June, an article in the Los Angeles Times co-authored by Sam Dean and Johana Bhuiyan stated, “Tech leaders have often pointed to a ‘pipeline problem’ to explain away the lack of Black hiring and promotion. But in 2016, 8.6% of graduates with a bachelor’s degree in computer and information science were Black and a little over 10% were Latino, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Even the graduating class of computer science majors at Stanford, Silicon Valley’s elite training ground, is more diverse than the companies just down the road from campus.”

According to Dean and Bhuiyan, the percentage of Black employees is 9% at Apple (that includes retail positions), 6% at Twitter, 4.5% at Microsoft, 3.8% at Facebook and 2.9% at Salesforce. The figures for leadership or high-ranking technical roles are even more dismal: 3.1% of leadership and 1.5% of technical roles at Facebook, 2.6% of leadership and 2.4% of technical roles at Google.

The tech industry has been pledging for years to increase the diversity of their workforce. But as Tina Shah Paikeday of Russell Reynolds Associates told Bloomberg Technology, “Tech values the notion that innovation comes from a diverse perspective, but it’s been more of an academic thought.”

Speaking of academic thought, here’s what Dr. Kaplan, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, had to say: “Corporate leaders would be better served if they stopped trying to justify diversity with profit margins and stock charts and instead embrace diversity because it is the right thing to do.”

So maybe it’s not all about the dollars; maybe it’s about sense. Maybe we need to take a step back and consider whether we’re following the facts in the wrong direction, to the wrong conclusion. Is it that workplace diversity drives innovation or, instead, that the kind of company that promotes innovation also promotes diversity?

And what’s so wrong about simply doing the right thing, anyway?

Buffy Naylor is managing editor of Channel Partners and Channel Futures, and a member of the Channel Partners/Channel Futures Allies of the Channel Council.


One comment

  1. Avatar Jody Serey August 4, 2020 @ 8:06 am

    Beautifully stated and thought-provoking article.

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