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April - 2016 - issue > CEO Insight
Fostering Diversity in Technology Firms
Paresh Patel
PhD, Founder & CEO-PayRange
Friday, April 1, 2016
Much has been written about the benefits of diversity, and the lack thereof, especially in technology companies. The idea is that since the consumer base is diverse, it is especially beneficial for companies to have employees that can better relate to a wide range of consumers. While we typically think about diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity, it can include a limitless set of characteristics such as demographics, academic background, sexual orientation, geography, culture, and more.

Our life experiences and who we are, affect the lens through which we see things. An almost literal example is to imagine a company developing a user interface and does not have a color blind person on its team. This company may select a combination of colors for the user interface, such as red and green that may make it indistinguishable to color blind people. There are simple fixes that can be done if the design team is aware of the issue; diversity helps the company become aware of a greater number of issues all in an effort to improve the company's offerings.

People see things through their experiences, prior knowledge, and who they are. This is ever more important in technology companies as we develop product for a wide ranging user base. However, companies often focus on the wrong goal. There is much emphasis on hiring diverse employees. This is a short-sighted effort, and is often done without deep commitment to actual diversity.

At my company, we have not been hiring to create a diverse workforce, but rather the byproduct of our culture creates an inclusive atmosphere that allows diversity to foster. Our company is staffed by 74 percent minority (women and/or ethnic minority). We have a diverse representation across the company from engineering, to management, to the executive team.

We do things differently, and paradoxically, the company doesn't "fit" with the stereotypical tech culture. We create an authentic, inclusive atmosphere for people who may feel uncomfortable elsewhere.

For example, we don't have kegs in our office as many technology companies in our market. This attracts a certain type of people while making other uncomfortable. We don't have pool tables. We don't have Friday happy hour. Instead, we have family nights out for dinner, vegetarian microwaves, summer picnics where employees can have fun with their kids, toys and prizes for kids, etc.

We recognize that in many Asian cultures, extended family is not only very important, but a responsibility. There have been times when we have learned that an employee's family member has been gravely ill overseas, and we have encouraged employees to drop everything and go visit telling them the work will be here when they return. These little things are authentically us. This not only supports that employee, but also it creates an environment where other employees appreciate the respect and understanding we demonstrate. By respecting one employee, we honor all.

In the hiring process itself, there are steps we undertake to avoid the unintentional filtering out of certain candidates. For example, we have learned that the correlation is low between how well a candidate negotiates their offer and how well they will perform on the job. Therefore, we have worked to take negotiation out of our hiring process. We make our best offer to a candidate and inform them about our approach. Sometimes we have offered candidates even more than they had been seeking because we felt they were undervaluing themselves.

With regards to the stock options, our nonmanagement employees start with the same package as a percentage of their salary. This again helps eliminate the need for negotiation which can be a disadvantage to certain groups of people. We reward for performance so we adjust salaries, bonuses, and options based on how well a person performs, not how well they negotiate with us.

That being said, once on the job, we encourage debate on matters in the scope of one's duties. We are not interested in seeking harmony-we seek the best decision or outcome for the company. We recognize not all employees are vocal and some employees with great ideas may not speak up in meetings. That's okay as we allow people to write their arguments as well, recognizing inherent cultural and personal differences. We weigh the arguments equally on the merits regardless if they are shared in a big meeting, delivered individually, or written to the team.

Ultimately when the employee succeeds, the company succeeds. While some companies may view certain employment matters as being on different sides of the table, we align ourselves with the employee to ensure she can succeed. This means sometimes we have to help the employee make their arguments against us. This may also mean we need to help train, and promote employees who may not openly ask for it.

In short, companies that are trying to actively hire diversely without looking first looking at their culture and processes are doing so in an unauthentic, and unsustainable way because while they may be able to hire diversely, it will be difficult to retain diversity. To retain a diverse workforce takes an introspective look at how the company and its managers have created a culture and environment that allows diversity to flourish.
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