The secret sauce to successful diversity efforts: What tech firms need to learn to stop the revolving door

For the last few years, news from the tech sector has been dominated by two types of stories: those highlighting the industry’s woeful lack of diversity and bold announcements by some companies to launch aggressive diversity efforts. But as the initial fanfare of multimillion dollar investments to accelerate their recruiting efforts fades, the question remains—are their efforts paying off? Unfortunately, the answer is not to the extent that they had hoped. People are leaving almost as fast as they are joining. These tech companies have the right intent, but getting sustainable results is another matter.

Intel was one of the first tech giants to step up with a bold commitment; however, they are finding that whatever gains they made have fallen short (Fast Company, 2016— While they describe holding everyone of their 107,000 employees accountable for achieving their diversity goals through a company-wide bonus program that has increased employee referrals, and have in fact done well in terms of broadening their recruitment efforts--efforts that are reflected in clearly improved hiring numbers, the revolving door for people who are different remains as active as ever. It is tempting to see these lackluster results and ask “why?” but the real question should be “Why are we surprised?”

Many organizations in the tech (and other industries) have invested considerable time, money and resources in revamping their recruiting processes (including instituting best practices such as blind recruiting, recruiting at a broader range of schools, and training hiring managers and teams to be aware of unconscious bias). These efforts to get people in the door are critical and need to be maintained and even escalated in some places, but they are only one part of the task. These organizations have not yet learned the often painful lesson that recruiting is only the first step toward having a more diverse organization. The secret sauce is inclusion. Many organizations assume their culture is fine and just getting people in the door is sufficient. Unfortunately, almost anyone who has ever joined an organization and had to navigate—with varying degrees of success—the unwritten rules and unspoken but powerful norms knows this is not a recipe for success. Too often, individuals of diverse backgrounds get hired only to find themselves in an organizational culture that feels like a club where systems and ways of interacting are unwelcoming and exclude people who are not a part of that club.

So what does changing the culture entail? It means creating an environment in which people feel welcomed and that they belong. It means that people feel seen, valued and respected for their differences and they experience a level of supportive energy from their team members, peers and leaders. Creating a culture where people want to stay requires more than diversity training or building awareness of the unconscious biases that block effective, inclusive interactions. Instead, it is about instilling, expecting and rewarding the day-to-day conscious actions for inclusion that allow people to do their best work using the talents, skills and abilities they were hired for in the first place. It means providing support for people who are different than the traditional group not only through networks and resource groups, but, more importantly, in their team environment so that the team members feel accountable and have the skills to leverage each person’s talents and abilities and understand the role that differences play as a part of their success. An inclusive organization recognizes that everyone needs to change. And it means expecting a new set of competencies and ways of working so that everyone succeeds.

Changing the culture means leveraging diversity AND living inclusion. Creating an inclusive organization must become a new way of life in organizations that are serious about becoming more diverse. Inclusion must become part of the organization’s DNA, the new HOW for how people interact, how decisions are made, how work gets done, but also who is at the table and whose voices are listened to. It is about BOLD moves…transformational change for most organizations.

It’s great that the tech industry is beginning to realize that it needs greater diversity for its continued success. Now it’s time to stop the revolving door and expand the focus beyond the door and into the hallways, meeting rooms, and shop floors where the culture lives and breathes. The tech industry has taken some solid first steps. The question is, will they step up yet again to ensure their efforts pay off? Organizations like Slack are leading the way, showing that it’s possible to recruit AND retain a diverse workforce. They are changing the way people interact. Creating a work environment in which all people feel that sense of belonging and can do their best work because the organizational culture works for them, supports them and fully includes them. It’s time for others to join with efforts that will make a sustainable difference in their organizations. The secret sauce is not so secret – but it does mean leadership must see the need for change. And that change is an inclusive culture.