Why Diversity is Critical for Tech Leadership Teams

Silicon Valley has, more than ever, been vocal about its standpoint regarding its relatively liberal perspective, often times discussing the importance of inclusion and diversity. However, the major tech giants of the Valley, as well as those based in Seattle such as Amazon and Microsoft, have had a glaring diversity problem for a long time. As the criticism regarding the concentration of white men at the top and throughout the upper ranks of these organizations mounts, the call from stakeholders (mainly their users and consumers) is to increase the diversity in their workforce.


While most of these organizations have implemented a commitment to diversity, they often find themselves in reactive situations. In 2015, Twitter had to make diversity a priority following at frat-themed party that garnered heavy criticism. The then VP of Engineering, Alex Roetter, had to apologize for his comment that the company “can’t lower the bar” to accommodate diversity. The following year, Twitter increased the number of women and underrepresented minorities in leadership by several points. Still, it shows that diversity and inclusion is not an issue at the forefront for companies. For many, it can seem to be more of a “chore” than a strategic business decision.

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Even with effort, there are many challenges that come with creating a more diverse workforce. Facebook, the world’s most widely used social network, has been very open about its issues surrounding diversifying their workforce. As of August 2017, the company’s workforce was about 35% women yet only 8% black and Hispanic (3% and 5% respectively). While this is growth, especially since the company just recently grew past 20,000 employees, they are recognizing the need to do better. They also discuss some of the issues being beyond their control, such as the fact that women and minorities receive far fewer computer science and engineering degrees, which decreases the amount of representation in their talent pools.




Still, it’s not for certain if technical organizations truly understand the strategic significance of a diverse workforce. Following President Trump’s immigration ban earlier in January, Apple’s Tim Cook stated that “diversity makes us stronger." As the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company, he’s also shared some concerns of the disparities of women in STEM fields, believing it can cost the US its place as a world leader. Still, this concern did not extend to racial and ethnic groups who are absent from Apple’s top leadership and stakeholders pushing back on Apple several times as well. While Cook may be onto something, he’s still missing the mark.


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Without the push from stakeholders, it's unlikely that these organizations would create these type of inclusion initiatives. According to 2016 Census data, women make up 50.8% of the population and white people account for 61.3%. Black and Hispanic people account of 31.1% of the population. With the US heading to having no racial majority by 2040, these trends are only on the rise which would indicate why stakeholders, who are more reflective of the entire population than the technical workforce, would take issue with the lack of diversity. However, stakeholder dissatisfaction should not be the driver for diversity hiring and succession planning. Workforce diversity shouldn’t be chalked up by technical companies as “the right thing to do” or as a social justice problem. Rather, organizations should see it as being smart strategy on their behalf.


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