It's rare to find a company that does not claim diversity as a top priority -- but achieving a diverse workforce does not happen through good intentions alone. It takes time, effort, and yes, money. That's why those of us who champion corporate diversity and inclusion applaud Google's announcement that they will set aside $150 million for spending on diversity initiatives in 2015. This is an essential step for the tech giant to take and if companies want to remain competitive, they should seek to follow in Google's steps.
Simply put: diversity improves company bottom lines. Numerous studies have shown that when more women and people of color have a seat at the table, companies make better-informed decisions and perform at a higher level.
The need for diversity is rooted in pure common sense. Our country is diversifying at an unprecedented pace. According to data from the Census Bureau, in the next five years more than half of children in the U.S. will be part of a minority race or ethnic group.
These children represent the future consumers of the next generation and are a key target audience for companies as they look to grow. They cannot be ignored. If you have a product and you want women and people of color to use it, then it only makes sense to have those people involved in its creation and spearheading its marketing and distribution. We can't provide services for a diverse population without having a clear understanding of what it needs.
Unfortunately, many tech companies are already missing out on these golden opportunities. Diversity statistics in tech and other hard sciences have been underwhelming for years and appear to have stagnated. A recent report found that jobs in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields are no more diverse than they were 14 years ago. Anecdotally, there are an overwhelming number of panels at conferences that are exclusively male. While these exclusions aren't malicious, they happen so frequently that it shows how easy it is to slip into old habits.
Achieving parity takes a considerable amount of effort. Companies will have to reach outside of their normal recruitment channels and think outside the box to attract top talent of diverse background. This is why it is noteworthy that Google's commitment extends beyond its own walls, and also towards investment in programs that encourage more women and people of color to consider tech as a career, addressing the problem directly at its root.
Good human resource management is also about retention and development. It's not enough to encourage women and professionals of color to come through the front door, it's also important to ensure that they are included at senior levels and in C-suites. That means making a genuine commitment to ensure that they have the resources, networks, and soft skills needed to rise to the top.
A recent study from the Center for Talent Innovation found that many high achieving black women aren't achieving promotions and feel stalled in their careers. Upon further analysis they found that it wasn't because the women surveyed lack the initiative, or feel incapable, but because they lack mentors and colleagues in senior leadership who understand their challenges and support them internally.
It's too soon to tell exactly how Google's multimillion-dollar investment will pay off, but it's a bold step in the right direction for a company with a history of innovation. I can only hope that more companies, both in and out of the tech world, choose to follow their lead and champion diversity and inclusion directly. If they fail to do so, they risk being left behind.
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