Diversity Is a Business Crisis in Silicon Valley

06/23/2015 09:41 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016

A year ago, I published "Google's Dark Ages Diversity Strategy Fails" in the Huffington Post about Google's report that its workforce is 60 percent white, 31 percent Asian, 3 Hispanic, and 2 percent black. Not much has changed since then.

As with its competitors throughout Silicon Valley, Google's diversity strategy had been to maintain a status quo white and Asian male workforce largely to the exclusion of women and other minorities. They came to recognize that among the impacts of America's impending demographic shift is the unsustainability of such a strategy of exclusion. Maintaining the status quo was becoming a liability, and Google rightly began a new conversation on diversity in Silicon Valley.

Chief among my observations was a lack of honesty and criticality in the efforts to rectify a problem primarily of the technology industry's own making -- the paucity of women and minorities among their ranks. Rather than admitting their strategy had been flawed and time had come for a radical shift, Silicon Valley clung to a rhetoric of inclusion when it should have been developing an action plan for employment.

Silicon Valley has a business problem--how to develop a workforce to meet its long-term needs for sustainability, excellence and innovation in a rapidly changing America.

In 2014, Google invested $115 million in diversity initiatives, with an additional $150 million planned for 2015. Intel is investing $300 million over three years to increase its workforce diversity, part of which will support women and minority startups. Other technology firms are following this trend. Yet, short-term results have been feeble.

Google reports an uptick of 1 percent for women. Blacks and Hispanics have gained 2 percent and 3 percent respectively yet still make up only 5 percent combined of the company's workforce. Google's male majority is unchanged at 70 percent.

These numbers come into sharp focus when considering the demographics of the nation. Half the country is and will be female, white male birthrates continue to decline, and in just 28 years minorities will become the majority in the U.S. While Google is ahead of the rest of Silicon Valley with even less workforce diversity, it remains woefully behind the nation's demographic curve.

Facebook has decided to implement the N.F.L.'s "Rooney Rule" that a minority must be interviewed for open executive positions. Both data and the experiences of Fortune 500 companies and universities across America tell us that many of these interventions do not work, as minorities are often included on the front end of recruitment and systematically excluded on the back end. It's an old story with a long history of failure outside the N.F.L.

So, what's going wrong? Silicon Valley isn't treating workforce diversity as the business crisis it is.

Granted, Silicon Valley is investing in programs to attract women and minorities to the technology field, engender good will, and increase workforce diversity through pipeline development. But there continues to be a lack of urgency to change.

When it comes to diversity, Silicon Valley needs a heavy dose of disruptive innovation -- an intentional infusion of uncertainty into a static situation to foster change.

Disruptive innovation is not concerned with political correctness. Neither is it bound by organizational systems, tribes or cultures. Instead, the aim is to break the frameworks that hold back change and progress so that new spaces of opportunity may be opened.

While there are many ways to practice disruptive innovation, I recommend these five for starters.

1. One company in Silicon Valley should declare a diversity talent acquisition war, which will shake up the rest of the industry. It should recruit minority talent from competitors and wherever it is available. It should start by diversifying its board and executive leadership team to help it gain credibility, traction and improved outcomes.

2. Be willing to jettison some of the dominant workforce through attrition for the sake of diversity. Some will say this is Affirmative Action. Perhaps it is. I see it as saving companies from their own biases and lack of courage to create new platforms for sustainability.

3. Shift from cultural competence to cultural resonance by making room for the intersectionality of race, gender and society in the workplace -- permitting people to bring their whole selves to work. Go beyond a focus on corporate culture to a focus on the cultural complexities of your people.

4. Hold executives accountable by attaching diversity goals to compensation. To some executives, money makes diversity matter when it does not otherwise.

5. Create company-branded centers of excellence in urban neighborhoods to inspire children and adults to embrace technology as a vocation and your company as a potential employer or business partner.

Here are five keys that I believe are fundamental to achieving workforce diversity in Silicon Valley and across America.

1. Be bold. Don't follow the crowd or the past. Disruptive innovation on your terms is the key.

2. Be courageous. Transformations require risks, disruption to the status quo, and periods of disequilibrium. Stay the course.

3. Don't play around. Go all-in, not merely with money but with self-critical actions. Start from the inside.

4. Focus on workforce diversity as a business issue rather than a social contract. Workforce diversity is not just about race and gender. It's about engaging workers to optimize their potential in the execution of their duties.

5. See diversity not merely as differences but as expressions of excellence, creativity and innovation.

Disruptive innovation is hardly new to Silicon Valley. Cloud computing and social media were disruptive technologies that changed the world. Silicon Valley now needs a disruptive operational technology that breaks down its self-made barriers to diversity and ensures the continued growth and success of the technology industry.