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Is your organisation racially reflective?

When you talk of equality in the tech industry, it’s likely you’re talking about gender inequality. There has been a strong drive to increase the representation of women in tech. And while I celebrate, as a feminist, that we seem to be making great strides in driving awareness of equality in the workforce, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that we are focusing on just one element of equality and have seconded “the other”. Race.

Racial discrimination in the workplace, especially at senior level, doesn’t seem to have moved on in practical terms. So, how can we tackle it and move the issue from being a hashtag rallying call (#MeToo and #TimesUp), to something more tangible that tech companies can truly get on board with?

“organisations featuring in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity at senior level, are 33% more likely to outperform their competitors in terms of profit.”

Outlining the business case

In 2017, the much-publicised McKinsey report, Delivering Through Diversity, found that the organisations featuring in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity at senior level, are 33% more likely to outperform their competitors in terms of profit. These findings have remained unchanged from McKinsey’s 2015 study, but the statistics supporting greater racial representation at senior level date back a decade or more.

In 2009, research conducted by the American Sociological Association found that for “every percentage in increase in the rate of racial or gender diversity up to the rate represented in the relevant population, there was an increase in sales revenues of approximately 9 and 3 percent, respectively.”

“just 6% of roles in the C-suite in the UK are occupied by an ethnic minority executive”

Yet despite the overwhelming evidence to show how critical it is to be racially diverse, just 6% of roles in the C-suite in the UK are occupied by an ethnic minority executive, according to the Business in the Community Race at Work report. The same number applies to those of colour who are CEO’s in the FTSE100.

It is clear that diverse teams make for better business outcomes. They also make for better investments too.

Shifting focus for tech investors

In a study into the venture capital (VC) activity conducted by the Harvard Business Review in 2018, the conclusion reached was clear: “Diversity significantly improves financial performance.” It is the degree with which early-stage tech start-ups and enterprises are embracing diversity that is increasingly influencing what tables these investors are leaving their money on. The case of Intel Capital confirms this.

Saying you’re an inclusive employer is all well and good, but you need to show how you are. “

In 2017, the company stated that between 2015 and 2017 the number of diversity investments it had made shot up from 6% to 22% respectively. Intel Capital is not alone. AOL, Comcast and Salesforce Ventures have each launched diversity funds within the last three years to invest in those tech firms who are actively promoting equal opportunities to underrepresented groups.

Of course, not all tech firms are chasing investment. So, what in practice, can and should be done to redress the balance?

Putting gender and race equality on a level playing field

Diversity needs to be represented in the brand of the organisation itself. Saying you’re an inclusive employer is all well and good, but you need to show how you are. While the call for greater female representation at board level is to be welcomed, it can equally be criticised for potentially overshadowing the need for more people of colour to be part of the boardroom.

Indeed, the Hampton-Alexander Review of November 2018 reconfirmed the target of 33% female representation at board level across the FTSE250 by the end of 2020 (it currently stands at 25%). According to the Review, the number of female CEO’s in the FTSE350 has fallen from 15 in 2017 to 12 in 2018.

But what of the lack of people of colour at senior level – should there be targets for them, too?

Perhaps, although there is the argument that quotas have their flaws. Britain’s biggest listed companies have been set government-backed targets of having at least one director from an ethnic minority by 2021. The FTSE 100 could take until 2066 to meet these targets…

So, the answer seems to lie elsewhere.

Getting the message right

The responsibility for overcoming racial bias doesn’t lie with the government setting targets, it is down the organisation itself and the first thing it must do is get its employer branding right. To attract the best executive talent means selling the organisation as an employer of choice for leaders from all backgrounds:

  1. Use language that calls out bias: Avoiding words and phrases more commonly associated with one demographic over another is critical. When Australian software giant Atlassian struggled to attract people of colour, they adopted augmented writing software which pored over their job descriptions both past and present. The company found that when the seemingly innocent ‘stakeholder’ is featured, it deters people of colour from applying for that role for fear that their contributions may not be as valued as their white male or female colleagues. Similarly, replacing words such as ‘build’ with ‘create’, or ‘manage’ with ‘develop’ has been shown to better appeal to both people of colour and women, too.

  • Pictures can speak volumes: One of the most powerful yet overlooked ways of presenting the organisation as embracing people of colour is to use images on its website and recruitment marketing that reflect the demography of the people it wants to attract. In doing so, the employer is effectively communicating the message that it is a diverse organisation. Such a small shift in aesthetics can have a huge impact and tip the balance in the organisation’s favour for those minority executives considering their options.

  • Educate the executive team: I spoke at the top of this article about the lack of awareness among those tech leaders who fit the typical tech CEO mold regarding the challenges and barriers faced by people of colour. When they do realise, the question they often ask is What can I do about it? One solution is to do what we have done at 360Leaders – put our people through unconscious bias training. This can take the form of diversity workshops at various stages throughout the year, whereby the senior leadership team can learn how to nurture diversity within the business, decide on key action points and evaluate the progress made to date.

We all have our own inherent biases. But recognising them, taking action to address them and communicating the steps that we need to overcome them (across the business) will add to the authenticity of your organisation as a truly diverse and inclusive employer.

It will also make the job of your executive search partners much easier too; saying but not showing you’re a diverse employer will make it almost impossible for a recruiter to convince a potential executive hire that the organisation is anything other than inauthentic.

At a time when the war for talent appears to be entering its most critical stage, those organisations who genuinely practice what they preach will be the ones who end up on the winning side.