How a tech giant approaches diversity in workforce

tech giant

In the aftermath of Geoge Floyd’s killing, a number of large companies have issued statements opposing racism. HP’s CEO also issued a goal: Double the number of Black and African American executives by 2025.

For nearly two decades, the Palo Alto, Calif.-headquartered tech giant, which is a major stakeholder in North American electronics recycling, has tracked the racial diversity of its employees. And it was intentional when it created what it considers the most diverse board of directors among large technology companies.

In a recent interview, Ellen Jackowski, chief sustainability and social impact officer at HP, reflected on the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts, many of which were noted in the company’s 2019 Sustainable Impact Report, released June 24.

Ellen Jackowski

Jackowski said HP needs to do much more in the area of diversity and inclusion. For example, HP’s U.S. workforce is just under 4% Black and African American, she said. Nationally, Black and African American individuals account for 12.3% of all workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It’s clear that we’re not making enough progress in Black and African American hiring,” said Jackowski. “Our current numbers are not acceptable, and we’re taking action to improve.”

Moving toward a more diverse workforce

HP’s 2019 Sustainable Impact Report noted that last year the company, through its global network of recycling vendors, recycled over 259 million pounds of electronic hardware and 32 million pounds of ink and toner cartridges.

But since 2002, the company’s sustainability report has included more than just environmental impact; it has also reported on the diversity of its workforce. HP sees people as interconnected with the environment and community, Jackowski said. For example, she said climate change – and now COVID-19 – particularly impact communities of color.

“With these unprecedented global challenges, these recent events continue to underscore the deep inequalities that remain in our society that we need to take more aggressive action against,” she said.

The company’s 2019 sustainability report notes that 63% of HP’s U.S. hires last year were from underrepresented groups, up from 57% the year before. “Underrepresented” includes women, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities. Of those hires, 40% were minorities, up from 32% in 2018. And, globally, 40% of hires were women, up from 32% the year before, she said.

But at 3.8%, the percentage of HP’s U.S. employees who are Black or African American is low. According to the 2019 sustainability report, 4.8% of new U.S. hires last year were Black or African American people.

In the U.S., 65% of HP employees identify as white.

Continuing to strengthen partnership with groups focused on the Black and African American community, as well as ensuring HP brings an intentional focus to job recruiting efforts, will be important, Jackowski said.

An example of a partnership is HP’s ongoing work with the National HBCU Business Deans Roundtable, through which HP participates in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Business Challenge. Through the competition, college and university students pitch business ideas to HP, and they’re encouraged to apply for internships.

According to a March 2020 press release announcing the winners of the third challenge, HP has hired seven interns from the top teams over the past two years. Since the program started in 2017, out of 44 participants (17 of whom were repeat participants) HP offered full-time jobs to five.

Half a decade ago, when HP split into two companies, HP Inc. and HP Enterprise, HP Inc. intentionally worked to create a diverse board of directors, Jackowski explained. According to the 2019 sustainable impact report, 42% of the board is women, 58% are minorities in the U.S., and 33% are under-represented minorities.

“HP has the most diverse board of directors of any U.S. tech companies, so our leadership in this space clearly starts from the top,” she said.

The 2019 Sustainable Impact Report announced a goal, driven by CEO Enrique Lores, to double the number of Black and African American executives in the next five years. According to the report, HP had 314 executives globally in 2019. The report does not identify those executives’ races.

Encouraging supplier diversity

HP also works to support diversity and inclusion with its purchasing power.

HP’s recently released sustainability report states the company’s Supplier Diversity program spent $123 million with minority- and women-owned businesses. Jackowski said the program also encourages suppliers to take action to increase their diversity.

She referenced a couple of examples where HP sought out suppliers that support low-income and minority populations. The company’s core recycling partner, Sims Lifecycle Services, subcontracts with Los Angeles e-scrap processor Homeboy Electronics Recycling. Homeboy, which disassembles printers and recovers the plastic for use in HP products, employs people who face barriers to work, including those with criminal records.

When asked for advice on how recycling companies can ensure minority representation in their organizations, Jackowski said the effort has to be intentional.

“Everyone is in a position to create change,” she said. “You might not realize in the recycling industry the opportunity that you have to create your own diversity and inclusion goal and progress for your company and industry, but we need action everywhere across all industries and all sectors. And it needs to start with the individual.”

Over 100 Black Creatives And Allies Launch “Change The Lens” Pledge To Boost Diversity In Film And Advertising

100 black creatives

As the film and TV industry strives to make up for its long history of deficiencies when it comes to diversity and inclusion in front of and behind the camera, over 100 Black creatives and allies in the filmmaking and advertising communities have teamed to create the Black Filmmakers Collective to launch “Change the Lens,”  a new pledge to increase the number of Black workers at all levels.

Led by production company Imperial Woodpecker’s Rohan Blair-Mangat, Olympian-turned-filmmaker Savanah Leaf of Park Pictures and producer Alli Maxwell of Florence production company,  the industry pledge calls on companies to commit to increasing the diversity of their department heads, crew at all levels and more, to reflect at the 15% Black representation that we see in the United States and London population. The pledge also asks production companies to consult a Head of Diversity & Inclusion, a role that would mediate and oversee implementing the diversity pledge within each company.

“We’re asking for what we have always deserved: an opportunity to be the voice of our own stories,” said Leaf.

Maxwell adds, “For far too long production company hiring practices have allowed for exclusion and bias particularly along racial lines. Acknowledging racism exists and continuing with business as usual is not an acceptable option anymore when there is clear and overdue work that needs to be done regarding racial equality and equity in production.”

“Hiring more Black heads of department and supporting Black filmmakers will empower them to tell their stories, provide varying perspectives, and ultimately bring through the next generation of Black talent,” said Blair-Mangat. “Alongside our partners at Bid.Black and Sporas, we are creating a community with the resources to inspire and enact change. The industry has not done enough to hold itself accountable. Now is the time to take action. After all, actions speak louder than words…and black squares.”

The pledge differs for each industry. For production companies, the pledge calls for 15%+ Black directors on their roster; talent agencies: 15%+ Black talent on the roster; the producer and director pledge call for 15%+ Black department heads and crew on every job while the department head pledge calls for 15%+ Black crew on every job.

Companies that have already gladly taken the pledge include Academy Films, Epoch Films, Luti Media, Object & Animal, Park Pictures, Prettybird and Pulse Films, to name just a few. Talent agencies include DDA Talent, Iconic Talent Agency, Murtha Skouras, The Gersh Agency, United Talent Agency and more.

On the individual producer and filmmaker side, Blair-Mangat, Leaf and Maxwell have committed to the pledge along with director Terence Nance (Random Acts of Flyness), director Alma Har’el (Honey Boy), Park Pictures producer Cody Ryder,  Salim El Arja of Couscous,  Luga Podesta of London Alley, Luti Media Producer Luti Fagbenle, and Global President, Commercials & Branded at Pulse Films Davud Karbassioun, director A.V. Rockwell, director Benny Boom, director Calmatic (Chuck Kidd II), music video director Karena Evans, Maya Table of Sam Frank Productions, among others.

 

Tech firms grapple with diversity after George Floyd protests

tech george floyd

Global protests after the death of George Floyd have once again raised questions of ways to improve racial justice for African-Americans, including through greater diversity in tech workplaces.

The nation’s electronics and computing companies are overwhelmingly staffed by white engineers, as are the ranks of top executives and boards.  Many tech companies have responded directly to the recent protests with a commitment to improve racial diversity but the disparity gap is immense and will be hard to fill.

Some tech companies have fewer than 2% Black workers, while African-Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population. Chip giant Nvidia told FierceElectronics that it has 80 workers who identify themselves as Black, making up 1% of its U.S. workforce. Reporting about diversity by individual tech companies can be spotty or non-existent, prompting one academic researcher to suggest the numbers of Black engineers could be very small if accurately reported.

Black worker representation that matches the population “is a reasonable goal when we talk about diversity,” said Sharla Alegria, a sociology professor at University of Toronto, in comment to FierceElectronics. “However, obstacles to achieving that level of representation are not just about recruitment and retention on the part of tech companies. There is a complex system of racial inequalities that leaves Black students less likely to have the education and skills for tech jobs, so reaching diversity goals requires collaboration across different institutions that prepare, train, recruit, hire and hopefully retain workers.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission last reported in 2018 that 3.5% of engineers and other professionals in computer and electronics manufacturing in private industry were Black workers.  About 61% of that job category of about 450,000 workers were white, according to a FierceElectronics analysis.

Among executives in that tech sector, just 1.7% were Black men and women, while 77% were white men and women, the EEOC reported that year.

Diversity at six semiconductor giants

FierceElectronics researched six of the largest chipmakers for the proportion of Blacks in their workforces, including Nvidia.

Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker by revenues, fared better than the EEOC average in 2019, reporting on its web site that its technical/engineering workforce was 4.8% Black, while 61% were white or Asian males. (Intel doesn’t tally white women in that group.) The percentage of Black executives at Intel was 2.3%.

Intel boasted its diverse employee base has grown in recent years, which is borne out in its numbers.  In 2015, just 3.3% of its technical/engineering work force was Black, compared to 4.8% four years later.

The company recently appointed a white male to its board, former HP CEO Dion Weisler. He championed diversity at HP, an approach that Intel said it embraces.  Intel Chairman Omar Ishrak said the company has worked to increase the board’s diversity with the election in 2018 of Risa Lavizzo-Mourey. But he added, “we are not satisfied” and said the board will work to increase its racial and ethnic diversity.

Micron Technology reported in 2019 on its web site that 3.3% of its technical/engineering workers were Black, while Qualcomm reported online last year that 1.3% of its technical work force was Black, while not specifying the number in technical jobs.Texas Instruments and Broadcom both have statements supporting a commitment to diversity on their web sites, but do not appear to have posted percentages of minority representation and did not respond to a request to comment.

Would more Black engineers reduce bias in AI and other products?

Nvidia is well know for its work in AI chips and technology used in industrial robots and other applications and clearly recognizes the need to exclude racial and other bias in its products.   In a statement to FierceElectronics, the company said: “We’re always striving to create better datasets and algorithms to overcome any bias in current models. We are also doing more research on algorithmic bias in deep-learning models and methods to mitigate them.”

Would hiring more Black engineers and chip designers make a difference in the level of bias that shows up in AI products? Maybe or maybe not. There’s a widely-held assumption that hiring more Blacks and other minorities will necessarily improve a company and its products or even advance the lives of those within an overall minority group.

“Things are never as simple as adding Black workers,” said Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, a sociology professor who heads the Center for Employment Equity at University of Massachusetts-Amherst and has written about minority representation in high tech.

“These workers must be integrated into workgroups, empowered to raise issues of racial bias when apparent to them and protected when co-workers or managers are resistant to racial claims.  Isolated engineers are unlikely to have such support and unlikely to be empowered to point out bias in product design or practices,” he said in an interview.

While there is a lot of talk about rooting out bias in computer science and law, Tomaskovic-Devey said he’s not seen a formal academic study on the matter in the social sciences or management fields.

Making change beyond symbolic gestures

Some tech companies are emerging as showing an understanding of diversity issues and making solid commitments to improve.  Tomaskovic-Devey pointed to Airbnb’s statement in mid-June to make the company more diverse.

Airbnb committed to increasing to 20% the number of people of color on its board and executive team by the end of 2021 and set out a plan to determine recruitment goals to be met by the end off 2025.  Tomaskovic-Devey noted that Airbnb started its diversity steps months ago, well before Floyd died in police custody on May 25.

The professor has also studied Pymetrics, which offers “ethical AI” used in talent management and acquisition of employees. “What they are doing is really smart,” he said. “They recognize that the AI approach to screening resumes and job apps reflects biases beforehand. They have pretty good data showing bias and how it can be trained out of an AI system.”

Blendoor, another company that uses analytics for managing a diverse workforce, has created a BlendScore that ranks companies on diversity and inclusion. Their ranking places Intuit, Google and HP in the top 3 spots.  Google has its own extensive diversity report that has Black workers at 3.7% of their workforce in 2020 with 2.6% in leadership spots.

“If Google is among the best, that doesn’t bode very well for others,” said Prof. Alegria.  Because Google doesn’t specify what roles those Black workers are in,  “it is possible that even at one of the companies with the best scores for diversity, the number of Black workers in technical positions is vanishingly small,” she said.

Alegria believes greater workforce diversity can help tech companies make better products.  “Companies make the case themselves that consumers are diverse, so if we want to make products that appeal to consumers, we need that diversity represented among designers, engineers and other team members making those products,” she said.

Recent history of the diversity push

While recent protests have ignited concerns about Black diversity in tech, the issue is hardly a new one.  Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson has been pushing for diversity in tech at least since 2015, calling for specific diversity goals and timetables at companies.

In 2017, Harvard Business Review authors wrote a study that found hiring discrimination against Black Americans hadn’t declined in the previous 25 years. They found that hiring discrimination was NOT influenced by a job applicant’s education, gender, local labor market conditions and other factors. “Our results suggest that levels of discrimination against black job applications hasn’t changed since 1990,” the authors said.

In 2014, the EEOC issued its own diversity in high tech special report that found Black workers had a smaller share of tech jobs when compared to overall private industry.  At that time, Silicon Valley tech firms had fewer than 1% Black workers in all job positions.

Despite this dubious history, Tomaskovic-Dewey sees some hope for the current era based on how protests in the 1960s improved Black hiring, at least for a time.  “In the 1960s and 1970s, the hundred largest companies hired black men and women and then the trend went flat and there was no relative change after the ‘80s,” he noted.

“The result of that political push in that era can kind of lead to hope about our current era,” he said. “This puts more pressure on corporations and government.  I’m a little bit hopeful right now when I see technologies like Pymetrics and public commitments with teeth. Many of the diversity statements we see are probably symbolic, however.  Hitting goals is about transparency and accountability.”

There’s also a view that better STEM programs in colleges will help increase the potential pool of Black candidates to prompt more hiring.  “Many tech companies are actually caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. “Most want to increase diversity, but it’s harder to find qualified candidates. “

“Women and people of color are still underrepresented,” Gold added. “What’s needed is to help the next generation of workers by getting more STEM education and making it more attractive for women and minorities to get into tech.  But that’s a 10- to 20-year effort and doesn’t solve today’s diversity problem. That’s not to say there’s not some systemic bias in tech, with the good old boys’ club.  It’s not a quick, easy fix.”

NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde Sets Goal Of 50% Diverse Workforce

nbc-news

Cesar Conde, the new chairman of NBCUniversal News Group, outlined a workforce goal of 50% diversity on Tuesday, telling employees that as “a news organization we have a unique responsibility to reflect the country and all of the communities we serve.”

“The NBCUniversal News Group is not going to wait for change to happen and just react to it.  We’re going to lead,” he said in a video to employees on Tuesday. “As a news organization, we have a unique responsibility to look like and reflect all of the people of the country we serve.”

He said that the goal is for 50% of the news organization employees to be women and 50% of their total workforce be people of color, with plans to boost recruitment and education programs and to invest in more documentaries and investigative content focusing on communities of color. The 50% goal is long term, with no exact date set to reach it, but he said that progress would be reported publicly every year.

Conde said that the workforce of the entities he oversees – NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC – is 26.5% diverse.

“That’s better than most in our industry – but it is not good enough,” he said. The workforce currently is 8% Black, 8% Hispanic, 8% Asian, 2% multi-racial and less than 1% Native American. When it comes to gender, he said that their workforce is nearly 50% women.

He said that the goal will be to increase diversity in front of and behind the camera and to “earn the trust of every community in America that relies on us for exceptional journalism.” he said.

“I don’t want us to just be good enough in this moment. I want us to be the best, and to have others look to our practices, our creativity and our ingenuity and say, ‘That’s the model we want to replicate. They are the best and we want to be like them,’” he said.

The plan includes increasing openings in their “pipeline programs,” like news associates, as well as “broadening our searches to ensure we reach more candidates of color.” At NBC News and MSNBC, the plan also includes such things as hiring 50 staff roles and decreasing the reliance on freelancers, and tripling the number of regional reporters.

“We will put an emphasis at the senior producer level as well as entry level to ensure we are building a strong pipeline of future leaders and highly qualified individuals,” he said. “And we recognize that to create economic diversity within our ranks, we will need to be creative in compensating Interns, News Associates and entry level employees.”

The plan also includes boosting education programs, via NBCUniversity, with an “online curriculum of master classes (at no charge) to aspiring journalists and producers (inside and outside our organization) who have not had the benefit of getting exposure to our business via school or internships.”

He said that they will be asking teams at NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC to create longform content focusing on Black America and other communities of color.

“These are not only Black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American issues,” he said. “They are simply American issues. A better understanding of the history, impact and experience of others makes us all smarter and stronger.”

At NBC News and MSNBC, the goal is for 50% women among guests and experts, and to 40% people of color. At CNBC, the plan includes permanently increasing representation by at least 10% “in anchors, reporters, guests, contributors, sources and Prime talent to better reflect qualified candidate pools,” according to slides outlining the action plan.

He also said that the network would look to partner with people and organizations outside the company for projects, with the National Urban League and Black Girls Who Code cited as examples, and to work more with vendors owned by women and people of color.

Conde said that their progress toward the 50% goal will be reported annually and that diversity would become part of management’s performance metrics.

“Currently, when we review and compensate our management team, we take into account important performance metrics such as ratings and operating cash flow,” he said. “Starting with our next assessments in early 2021, we will add progress on diversity to the performance metrics of the leadership team.”

Dear tech industry: Protesting is important, but it’s not enough

dear tech

For years we’ve watched tech abdicate its responsibility to a racially diverse workforce and audience. If you genuinely want to make tech more inclusive, you must commit to long-term systemic change—today.

Let this be the moment that you change.

 

It has been both heartening and whiplash-inducing to watch the tech ecosystem’s response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and the mass protests across the country they have inspired. It is a testament to organizers on the ground who have worked for years and years, often without the resources they needed, that techies—who have largely struggled in the last three years to address issues of racial inequity and injustice—are among those standing up.

High-wage work in America is not colorblind; it’s not a meritocracy; it’s white. And that goes doubly for tech. Often we hear that the lack of Black and Latinx people in tech is a pipeline issue. That these folks are not pursuing tech educations and careers. But the data show that 20% of computer science graduates and 24% of boot camp grads are Black and Latinx. However, only 6% of the tech industry is Black and Latinx. As legions of racial equity professionals, diversity and inclusion specialists, and educators demanded the tech industry shift, we often heard, “But tech isn’t any worse than anyone else.”

THE BLACK AND LATINX WHISPER NETWORK IN TECH KNOWS THAT TECH COMPANIES ARE AFRAID OF INVESTING IN INCLUSION.”

You’re right! But tech also fashions itself as a world-changing, moonshot making, risk-taking enterprise. It chooses not to apply that ethos to itself for the most consequential issues of our time. Over the last four years, it has also actively hidden, covered up, and made excuses for this lack of effort.The Black and Latinx whisper network in tech knows that tech companies are afraid of investing in inclusion. That tech leaders believe that to come out in favor of a racially equitable workforce will put them in the crosshairs of a president with an itchy Twitter finger, and that their rank and file who are happy with the status quo will revolt.

Code2040 works for the proportional representation of Black and Latinx people in tech at all levels of leadership. We believe that by doing this in tech, we can have an impact on high-wage work across the economy. Since 2017, we have watched as company after company has deprioritized and defunded racial equity work. Roles such as Head of Diversity and Inclusion have shifted to Head of Employee Engagement. We’ve had conversations with HR teams, who, allocated a pittance of a budget for racial equity work, admit the operational cost of the work is too expensive.

We are then asked, as Black and Latinx people, to donate this work to multi-million- (or even multi-billion-) dollar businesses, or to provide services and programs at a discount. That means devaluing Black and Latinx labor, asking Black and Latinx people to work on the very policies and people that dehumanize us for free, and philanthropically subsidizing tech companies.

In moments like this, when police murder another Black person, when gross incompetence is demonstrated at the elected level, we often hear white people with money and power wringing their hands and crying, “What can I do?” or worse, “How does this happen?” Some brave the dangers of the coronavirus to head out and protest. Some start book clubs and post furiously on social media.

While those actions are not useless, they are not where you are best utilized right now, especially if taking urgent action today assuages your guilt and pain and returns you to complacency tomorrow. What we need is for you to commit to this work for the rest of your lives, to strengthen your resilience so that you don’t tire as soon as this moment has passed, and to start with the very hard work of looking at yourself and the anti-Blackness and white-superiority you have internalized and perpetuated—and the many ways in which it has shown up in your work and life.

TECH’S INABILITY TO DIVERSIFY ITS WORKFORCE AS IT DEFINES THE FUTURE PUTS ALL OF US IN DANGER.”

Externally, that starts with where you sleep and where you work (which at the moment are likely the same, but you know what we mean). A lack of proportional representation and the equitable distribution of power across demographics in all our major industries—government, media, healthcare, and yes, tech—left our country, economy, communities, and planet vulnerable. Tech’s inability to diversify its workforce as it defines the future puts all of us in danger. Racial representation and equity means creating the economic, physical, psychosocial, and social conditions at your workplace where Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people can thrive. In the absence of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people—especially Black, Latinx, and Indigenous women—involved in the creation and design of technology, tech is ignorant of the potential repercussions of building the world in such a slanted way.The beauty and power of the protests happening right now is that our communities’ pain is widespread, we are developing a shared, inarguable set of facts about brutality and racism, and we are collectively shifting the Overton window in discussions about systemic racism and the existence of racism in the U.S. However, as a sector, we are not exempt from responsibility and accountability for the decisions that led to this moment or the litany of pain that has gone ignored. Here’s what you can do:

ACCEPT THAT THIS IS AN INSIDE JOB 

Individually seeking and unlearning your internalized racism and white supremacy, and committing to cultural change on your teams and at your organizations. Brace yourself, because if you’re doing it right, you will be uncomfortable. But not as uncomfortable as George Floyd was with a knee to his neck. So keep your perspective. Get versed in how you will talk about it with your friends, peers, parents, children, and social media connections. Then talk about racism and anti-Blackness with your friends, peers, parents, children, and social media connections.

FORCE YOUR COMPANY TO DO MORE

Demand that your company shift from viewing racial equity and diversity as a partisan issue, and commit to changing the internal ideas, cultures, and practices that got us here in the first place. Racial equity and racial justice are not add-ons that help you hire, make good marketing, and make more money. Commit to no longer separating them from the centrality of your work. They are the single most critical, life-and-death issue of our time, and you can have an impact exactly where you are.

Advocate and build budgets that include financial commitments to recruiting and hiring Black, Latinx, and Native people, as well as training so that they are not hired into abusive organizations and managed by people who have not done the work to unpack their racism and anti-Blackness.

Advocate for hiring policies that prohibit university pedigree and GPA as screening mechanisms, reevaluate and overhaul the tech interview process, segment performance review data by race and gender, segment exit interview data by race and gender, publish segmented retention data, and hire no-nonsense racial equity coaches for company leaders. Then don’t fire them when the work gets hard.

COMMIT TO SYSTEMIC CHANGE

Actions that require no sacrifice are meaningless. Raising a tiny fund for Black people or hiring a diversity and inclusion employee to do the work of single-handedly changing the system that harms them will not transform a 400-year-old system and its descendants. Take a stand and commit to doing the work, and require those around you to as well. Let it be known that employees who refuse are refusing a strategic imperative of the company, and then hold them accountable accordingly.

This is the biggest change management initiative you will ever participate in, but we’re all familiar with the power of technology to radically alter how this country lives and the pace of change tech demands. (Most of you are reading this on a smartphone because of that.)

Face this with us. Let this not be a moment where you make tepid commitments for a set of weeks and go back to how you were. Let the pain of our country inspire you to change who we are and the companies we build. Let this moment of uprising in our country make us braver than we’ve been.


Mimi Fox Melton is the general manager for Code2040 and has worked at the intersection of Black and Brown liberation, empowerment, and tech for eight years. Her professional and personal work centers on the liberation of the mind, bodies, and souls of Black and Brown people. Before COVID-19, Mimi was learning the flying trapeze.

Karla Monterroso is the CEO for Code2040 and has worked in communities of color for the last 20 years in support of the leadership of Black and Latinx youth in education, healthcare, and technology. Before COVID-19, Karla was a weightlifter and active hiker with her dog.

VC diversity programs are shifting online to try to maintain momentum

vc diversity online

  • The monumental challenge of tackling venture capital’s systemic lack of diversity is going virtual. 
  • Diversity VC has swapped its internship program for a series of webinars and mentoring sessions, while Included VC opted to run a virtual retreat for its cohort. 
  • VC has a reputation for being among the least diverse industries in the world.

     

    Programs aiming to tackle the venture capital industry’s systemic lack of diversity are shifting online amid the coronavirus pandemic as they try to sustain their momentum.

    This year, London-based Diversity VC and Included VC have tweaked their courses, which aim to get more people into tech investing from diverse backgrounds.

    VC has a reputation for being among the least diverse industries in the world. In the U.S., the industry is 70% white and 80% male, while 40% hail from Stanford or Harvard, according to analysis by Equal Ventures. In the U.K., just 13% of top VC jobs are occupied by women, according to a report from Diversity VC. It’s a self-perpetuating prophecy: most of the industry’s capital still flows to a relatively narrow group of founders who tend to have things in common with the VCs themselves.

    Going digital

    Instead of running its normal “Future VC” internship program for 30 people, Diversity VC decided to run a series of online webinars and mentoring sessions for 300 people.

    The sessions, which began on June 9, are being led by renowned tech investors working in the industry, such as Balderon Capital’s Suranga Chandratillake and Eight Roads’ Lillian Li.

    Check Warner, co-founder and CEO of Diversity VC, said she was concerned that the coronavirus pandemic will have a negative impact on diversity and inclusion in VC.

    “In the face of adversity and trying times, investors may go back to ‘bad habits’, such as relying on their network for introductions to both potential portfolio companies and team members,” said Warner.

    “Stifling diversity of thought in this way is bad for everyone: for VCs, and for tech entrepreneurs. That’s why, in the face of the obstacles, we are keen to ensure Future VC 2020 goes ahead this year.”

    Another program run by Included VC, which offers a 12-month VC fellowship for 40 individuals from diverse backgrounds, was forced to make its cohort “retreats” virtual this year due to the pandemic.

    Fully remote

    “An in-person retreat in Madrid that was scheduled for June was virtualized and events that Included VC encourages fellows to lead in their local communities to share their knowledge about the VC sector have been put on hold,” Included VC co-founder and director Nikita Thakrar told CNBC via email.

    Other initiatives that aim to support start-up founders from diverse backgrounds have also moved online in response to Covid-19.

    Venture capital firm Playfair Capital made its Female Founders Office Hours program “fully remote” earlier this year, rendering geography a “non-issue” in the process. The program allows female founders to meet tech investors.

    “Going fully-remote, via Zoom Breakout Rooms, gave much-needed structure to the scale of 800 one-on-one meetings,” said Henrik Sanchez, a venture capital investor at Playfair Capital.

    “It also enabled us to host a second event at short notice to accommodate huge demand from another 100 founders and 30 VCs.”

Let’s stop COVID-19 from undoing diversity gains

Group portrait of people smiling

 

Women, especially from more disadvantaged backgrounds, are going to be taking the lion’s share of caregiving responsibilities at home during the pandemic, making them more vulnerable to job cuts. At the same time, underrepresented employees in general may feel more marginalized than ever as job security is put on the line.

It’s been hard to get to where we are on diversity and inclusion. Slowly but surely, diversity and inclusion have become a highly visible element of any company. But as COVID-19 turned up the pressure for businesses around the world, that progress came under threat as D&I initiatives took a back seat. The killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests reignited D&I efforts in magnitude, but how can we ensure that, as time passes, those efforts are maintained with energy and determination?

This may be the shock to the system that will make business leaders realize that diversity is not an accessory or PR stunt — it is an integral part of the daily lives of each and every member of your team. Today’s consumers and your co-workers demand socially conscious companies, which is why D&I is vital to making any startup a well-rounded business. It’s also imperative for supporting economic recovery on a larger scale. Forgetting to preserve and improve D&I as we battle through COVID-19 will not only set us back years in terms of equality, it will worsen our collective chances of getting through this turbulence unscathed.

D&I matters to your business’ survival

It’s understandable that most startups today will be in survival mode. But D&I cannot be cast aside as a nonessential part of your business. It’s quite the opposite. More diversity is a known indicator for better economic performance and improves a business’ chances of thriving through a recession.

We often hear about how diversity means more innovation in a company. Consider just how important this is today. Facing a crisis with no precedent, weighing up a variety of insights and solutions is vital to finding an intelligent lockdown strategy. As business leaders, we need to know what the world around us looks like right now, and that means knowing what people of all backgrounds are experiencing.

We also can’t afford to not take into consideration the long-term effects of today’s actions. Survival can’t mean usurping what your company stands for. If you sacrifice diversity now, you might retain employees for the time being, because they’re scared of being jobless. But you will have undermined the trust that your workers place in you and you will be sure to lose them far more easily once the situation eases. This is very true for customers too — the crisis is driving the public to support purpose-driven and diverse businesses more than ever, and you will be left out if you don’t meet those values.

Even if you’re not hiring, work on diversity and inclusion

So how can a startup keep diversity a priority in this strange new world? Sure, you may not be hiring, but that’s not the only way to improve diversity. Take this time to revisit your internal culture. The virus is forcing us to see our business from different angles — we’re looking into the homes of our co-workers, hearing about the personal issues affecting their work lives and about the work issues affecting their personal lives. Let’s make sure your company culture is not part of the problem.

You need to be accessible. Are some of your employees scared to speak up about their issues? Is there a big morale problem that you haven’t been able to alleviate? If so, then you need to work on making your workspace more inclusive, open and friendly. This is more than building up team spirit with morning coffee Zoom get-togethers and after-work networking. It’s about weeding out any systems that bring repercussions to people who voice their concerns; it’s about encouraging them to do so; it’s about recognizing every member of a team and every person in a meeting, not just the executives present.

The lockdown has shown that many people can work remotely, effectively. Can you use this in future to give employees a greater chance of success — perhaps those who live far from the office, or who have children or elderly relatives to care for? Many HR departments are probably focusing efforts away from hiring at the moment and could instead be put in charge of employee success, which means identifying and addressing the unique concerns of each of your staff (you might even consider assigning a full-time staff member to this role).

This is key to making your company a welcoming place for underrepresented employees who are often more wary of their circumstances than their co-workers, both now and in the future. It will help them grow and want to stay in the company, as well as attract a more diverse employee pool in the future.

In case you are hiring, there are innovative solutions to help you attract more diverse applicants to your company. Joonko’s technology integrates to your applicant tracking system to boost the visibility of underrepresented potential hires. Pitch.Me aims to tackle bias by presenting candidate profiles anonymously, including only relevant information about experience and skills but with no information regarding gender, age or ethnic background. Services like DiTal help tech businesses connect with potential employees from diverse backgrounds.

Reassess what internal success looks like

Before COVID-19, the key performance indicators for your business might have been the number of sales per rep, or the number of leads generated in a week. Those quotas are now unrealistic, and more importantly, they’ll be tougher to reach for employees with less time on their hands. That means people with more caregiving responsibilities — often women — or with less disposable income, and statistics show that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be affected by the virus.

You have to create a work environment in which people with less time and resources can still achieve their professional goals. We typically hear that 80% of the most valuable work takes up 20% of a team’s time; well, let’s make sure your staff is focusing most of their efforts on that 20% of valuable energy. Build a new business plan that reassesses what the company needs to achieve in the near future, and set new metrics that hyperfocus on that bottom line. Think about how important it is to each of your co-workers’ morale to be able to meet their goals day in day out, despite today’s challenges. Furthermore, being adaptable for the benefit of your staff is an admirable quality that will not easily be forgotten.

An important note — helping everyone reach success means giving everyone the resources to do so. No one in your company should be unequipped to this “new normal,” which means good laptops or devices and speedy internet. Don’t hesitate to invest in people who need it.

Prioritize career development

Career development is vital for underrepresented employees, for whom upward mobility is always harder. People from minority backgrounds tend to have less robust business networks, exactly because they are the minority in the business world. We can never stop fighting this vicious cycle.

So take a look at your team and think about who you can help ascend in their career. Prioritize underrepresented people now because they are more likely to get hit harder by the lockdown and have a tougher recovery. Even if you don’t see it from an altruistic perspective, including underrepresented employees in your leadership now will lead to better economic local recovery and improved outcomes for your company.

One option is sponsorship programs in which you or other senior leaders advocate on behalf of selected employees (as well as acting as their mentors). Think of it as equally distributing the networks and influence accumulated by business leaders among a more diverse pool of people.

Bring diversity into your brand

We’ve looked inward, now let’s look outward. How can you change how your industry looks, even in times of crisis. To reach the huge visible changes we’ve seen in, for example, branding in the fashion industry, took influential people making decisions at powerful tables. But it would be ironically easy to see things regress to a more heterogeneous state.

Stopping this from happening means making those big decisions yourself, and uniting others in joining you. Leverage your brand and bring your internal diversity to the forefront of everything you do — the mentors who give their time to startup organizations, the speakers you put forward for online events. Make a conscious push for your external marketing to display as much diversity as possible, especially amid fears that the advertising space will compromise its diversity standards in response to COVID-19.

Support other underrepresented founders

If you have the resources, help struggling founders get through the lockdown. There may be small or mid-sized women or minority-led companies within your community that need your support. If you’re sending employees care packages and gifts, make the extra effort to source them from underrepresented local businesses. It’s not hard to do — there are organizations that can help you connect to such companies around the United States, such as Women Owned’s business directory and Help Main Street.

Large companies can work with Hello Alice to directly fund smaller companies founded by every underrepresented group in the United States, from veterans to LGBTQ+. IFundWomen is a large network of women-founded businesses you can choose to fund — or join — and it has a wing specifically for businesses owned by women of color. As a business leader you can always be seeking out diverse founders to collaborate with; For example, check out this amazing list of Latinx founders catering to the United States’ enormous Latinx markets, as well as finding solutions to improve diversity in business.

The NAACP has fought for equal rights for people of color for over a century. You can support them and their ongoing work, which ranges from campaigning for crucial reforms to spotlighting emerging Black-owned businesses.

Now’s not the time to slack on diversity. As tempting as it might be to think of it as an accessory, it’s just as vital now for your business to get through the pandemic and to stop your entire industry from losing decades of hard-earned progress in building a more equal society.

Tech’s Hidden Diversity Problem: Executive Headhunters

alex cole

Executive search firm True often gets the call when hot tech companies seek to fill key jobs. The New Jersey–based outfit has grown as quickly as some of its startup clients, having hired 350 employees across several continents since its founding eight years ago.

True resembles its tech industry clients in another way: Just one of the firm’s nearly 70 partners is Black. Other prominent tech headhunting firms are similarly lacking in diversity within their upper ranks, a gap that tech professionals and recruiters said likely contributes to the underrepresentation of Black and Latino executives throughout Silicon Valley.

“We have fallen into the same trap [as our clients],” True co-CEO Brad Stadler said in an interview. True said its top priority for its own internal recruiting team is to boost the number of partners who are Black or Latino.

THE TAKEAWAY
The recruiting firms who play a significant role in spotting candidates for top jobs in the tech industry themselves lack diversity in their upper ranks, contributing to Silicon Valley’s overall diversity issues.

Executive recruiters often hold the keys to top jobs in Silicon Valley. Partners at these firms leverage their networks to come up with slates of potential chief marketing officers, finance executives and engineering chiefs for startups. Yet the searches lead only infrequently to the hiring of Blacks and Latinos, making it more difficult for nonwhite executives to gain access to the upper echelons of the tech industry.

There are few Black partners at other startup recruitment firms, including SPMB, Daversa Partners and Riviera Partners. Daversa Partners declined to comment. Riviera Partners declined an interview request. SPMB didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Tech’s diversity issues extend beyond the racial and ethnic makeup of recruiters. Black and Latino professionals in the search industry said hiring managers tend to gravitate toward candidates who attended elite schools or worked at name-brand companies, and as a result they overlook other talented prospects. And for underrepresented minorities who do get hired, they said, companies need to invest more in leadership and mentorship programs for these employees to boost retention.

But the lack of diversity among search professionals can affect which candidates get called for important jobs, particularly among startups, said Dan Portillo, a former talent partner at the venture capital firm Greylock.

“[The search process] is all done via network—knowing who you know, knowing who you know over multiple years, having access to people with successful careers,” said Portillo, who is Latino and now serves as a managing partner at VC firm Sweat Equity Ventures. “Until you figure out how to get that out of the way of running searches, this problem will persist.”

The tech industry doesn’t appear to have made significant progress in bringing more underrepresented minorities into top jobs.

An average of 2.7% of executives at 10 big tech firms, including Apple, Google and Uber, are Black, according to an analysis by The Information of 2018 federal filings by the companies. That’s slightly lower than the share of Black executives across the Fortune 500, and much lower than the percentage of U.S. computer science graduates who are Black.

Many of the tech sector’s most prominent startups don’t release diversity reports that detail the racial or ethnic makeups of their leadership. Two of the most valuable privately held startups, Airbnb and Stripe, have said publicly they aren’t diverse enough. At Airbnb, just one out of the 16 people on its executive team is nonwhite. Stripe doesn’t release diversity data, but CEO Patrick Collison wrote earlier this month that inside the company “the fraction of U.S. employees who are Black is substantially lower than that of the American population.”

The issue has come into focus in recent weeks, following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer and protests around the country. Companies have issued statements and donated money for racial justice causes. Executive recruiters said companies are already asking for more-diverse slates of candidates. Google, Facebook and Airbnb have said they would increase the number of executives who are underrepresented minorities in the coming years.

But it may be too little, too late, said Amy Vernetti, a former partner at True who also served in a senior recruiting role at Alphabet. She said startups and executive recruiters should have been building more diverse networks of candidates a decade ago.

“The startups are just as bad as the big companies, and the big companies are terrible,” said Vernetti. “Executive recruiters who authentically understand this issue—I don’t know if there are any.”

Some tech veterans emphasized that the makeup of recruiting businesses is one of many factors in the industry’s lack of diversity. Marinda Thomas, a former executive recruiter at Facebook, said younger firms often don’t nurture or coach junior managers who are underrepresented minorities.

In addition, she noted, the tech industry’s leadership roles are often based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the share of residents who are Black has declined in recent decades. The growing openness to hiring workers remotely could help attract more underrepresented minorities, Thomas said. Google said last week that it would look to hire more senior executives in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and London, where it already has offices, to attract more-diverse candidates.

Thomas now works on searches for digital publishing firm Issuu, where she said she is the only Black employee. She attended Howard University, which she said means her personal and professional network is likely more diverse than that of other recruiters.

“I have more conversations now with CEOs or heads of HR that put diversity on the table—the need and desire for it. That wasn’t a conversation I had in 2010 with the same people,” said Thomas, who also worked at search firm Riviera Partners. “People are still grappling with how to get there.”

Successful executive searches can be lucrative. Search partners often are paid a fee equal to one-third of the executive’s first-year salary. True, which is privately held and works almost entirely with tech firms, pulled in $91 million in revenue last year, up 36% from the previous year, according to industry publication Hunt Scanlon.

Alex Cole, director of talent at private equity firm VMG Partners, used to work as a senior associate at True. Cole, who is Black, said the search industry hasn’t built a diverse workforce in part because relatively few people know about these careers. “Quite frankly, so many people are taught to be doctors, lawyers, but nobody hears about executive search,” she said.

Stadler outlined True’s plans to increase diversity. One step the firm is taking is to launch a platform next month, called Above Board, where underrepresented leaders will be able to share personal demographic data and see available executive positions.

Lucinda Duncalfe, a longtime software executive who will run Above Board, said it was clear to her that search firms have diversity problems. “We can’t look to organizations that are less diverse than the tech firms to solve the tech diversity problem.”

Wall Street is under pressure over its lack of diversity

wall street diversity lack

A global corporate reckoning that began in the United States after the killing of George Floyd has prompted industries long dominated by White males, such as the financial sector, to rethink diversity.

George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd was arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. His death ignited worldwide protests aimed at addressing racial injustice and inequality.  

Wall Street has long been an industry dominated by White males. At Goldman Sachs, just 2.7 percent of executives, senior officials and managers are Black. At Citi, 2 percent of executives and senior managers are Black.

Closing the racial wealth gap

While companies and banks cannot single-handedly solve the systemic and historic racism that has existed in the United States since its founding, an effort is being made to try and give Black Americans a better chance at economic equality.

In addition to the obvious benefit closing the racial wealth gap would mean for affected communities, a 2019 McKinsey report projected doing so could net the U.S. economy between $1.1 trillion and $1.5 trillion by 2028.

“Public companies and private companies have to focus on ‘how can you show your corporate purpose,’ not just to your employees and your clients, but in every society you work,” BlackRock CEO Larry Fink told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in a World Government Summit panel last week. He added that “purposeful” companies are going to have better long term profitability.

BlackRock has promised 30 percent more Black employees at the firm by 2024. As CEO of the world’s largest asset manager, Fink oversees more than $6 trillion and hires 16,000 people across the globe, only 5 percent of which are Black. Global Infrastructure Partners Chairman Adebayo Ogunlesi told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble that thanks to “prodding” from CEOs like Fink, business is recognizing that it has a leadership role to play in society in areas like economic and racial injustice.

Wall Street wakes up

Under pressure, banks have taken steps to do more to fight racism. Many CEOs released statements and spoke out about the killing of George Floyd, recognizing the deep divisions America faces when it comes to race.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon released a statement recognizing the “reality” of police brutality, and “coupled with the COVID crisis, highlights the inequities black and other diverse communities have and continue to face every day,” vowing to do more as a firm.

Wells Fargo pledged to double Black leadership over the next 5 years at the bank. According to a memo, only 6 percent of the San Francisco-based bank’s senior leaders are Black.

Bank of America announced a $1 billion, four-year commitment of additional support to help local communities address economic and racial inequality accelerated by Covid-19.

The gender gap

Wall Street doesn’t struggle only with racial diversity. Women are significantly underrepresented in the financial services industry.

Francesca McDonagh, the CEO of the Bank of Ireland, told CNBC the banking sector is “notoriously non-representative” of women.

“There are very few female CEOs of systemically important banks,” she said. “When I look around at opportunities to promote women, I always look hard and fast, but there is a shortage at the senior level.”

Here are tech companies’ plans for increasing diversity amid protests over racial inequality

tech diversity plans

Netflix, Google, Facebook and Microsoft among the big names promising money and targeting specific goals for increasing hiring of black tech workers

Sparked by social protests over systemic racism, the tech industry is laying out concrete plans to increase diversity within their workforces. Here are the plans that have been publicly announced recently by some of the biggest names in technology.

• Netflix Inc. NFLX, 0.31% said it plans to put 2% of its cash holdings, or up to $100 million initially, toward financial institutions and other groups “that directly support Black communities in the U.S.”

• Microsoft Corp. MSFT, -0.66% Chief Executive Satya Nadella, in an email to employees posted on Microsoft’s corporate blog, said the software giant is adding $150 million to its diversity and inclusion investment, and will “double the number of Black and African American people managers, senior individual contributors, and senior leaders in the United States by 2025.”

Read: After years of talk, tech companies appear to be getting serious about diversity efforts

• In a wide-ranging interview with CBS before the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple AAPL, 0.45% CEO Tim Cook spoke about the role smartphone cameras play in revealing systemic racism. He further highlighted the conversation at the start of his keynote speech, touching on racial justice, equality, and COVID-19. “We’re committed to being a force for change,” said Cook, who earlier this month pledged to donate $100 million to organizations furthering racial equity and justice. The company has also announced a new developer entrepreneur camp for black developers.

See also: CEO Cook on Apple’s role in tackling inequality: ‘I do believe, optimistically, this is one of those moments that we could make significant progress’

• Google parent Alphabet Inc. GOOGL, 0.08% GOOG, 0.07% vowed to increase the proportion of “leadership representation of underrepresented groups” overall by 30% at the company by 2025, according to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai. Additionally, Alphabet will provide $175 million in a mix of financing and funding to related businesses.

“Listening to the personal accounts of members of our Black Advisory Leadership Group and our Black+ Googlers has only reinforced for me the reality our Black communities face: One where systemic racism permeates every aspect of life, from interactions with law enforcement, to access to housing and capital, to health care, education, and the workplace,” Pichai wrote in a memo.

• Facebook Inc. FB, 0.81% Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg announced in a blog post that the company has committed to a 30% increase in the number of people of color in leadership positions over the next five years, and will devote $200 million to support black-owned businesses and organizations — part of a $1.1 billion investment in black and diverse suppliers and communities in the U.S.

• SAP SE SAP, -1.05% issued a pledge to “double the representation of African-American talent in the U.S. over the next three years.” Additionally, it introduced a new marketing program, “Spotlight Black Businesses,” to assist small, black-owned businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 and protests caused by social unrest.

• In a May Corporate Responsibility Report, Intel Corp. INTC, -0.84% released diversity goals of increasing the number of women in technical roles to 40% and doubling the number of women and underrepresented minorities in senior roles by 2030. In early 2015, then-CEO Brian Krzanich pledged $300 million toward diversity efforts and set 2020 as a deadline to reach “full representation” in hiring. The company said that it actually achieved that goal in 2018.

• Kicking off Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co.’s HPE, 0.14% Discover Virtual Experience conference, CEO Antonio Neri acknowledged the need to do more — recent actions include formation of a global inclusion and diversity council chaired by him to oversee the development of a detailed plan.

“I challenge you to join me to use this moment to take a stand, to speak up on inclusion and to advocate for equity,” Neri said. “We have to do better as a society. And, together, we can make a difference and be a force for good.”

• Mozilla Corp. said it intends to double the percentage of black and Latinx representation of its 1,000-person U.S. staff. It also wants to increase black representation in the U.S. to 6% at the director level and up, as well as representation on Mozilla and Mozilla Foundation boards.

“This is a starting point for what Mozilla should look like, not an aspirational end point, and it applies to all levels of the organization,” Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, told MarketWatch. “There is no question events of the past few weeks have underlined the need to focus more on racial justice. The collective push of the tech industry is promising and important, but we need to make sure we are collectively held accountable on moving the ball.”

• Two weeks ago, Reddit named Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel, who is black, to its board of directors after Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian stepped down and asked to be replaced by a black candidate.

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