Outreach, training and ‘culture add’: How tech can turn the corner on diversity and inclusion

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Apptio EVP of People and Culture Britt Provost, left, and Founder and CEO of uniquelyHR Mikaela Kiner.  (GeekWire Photo / Clare McGrane)

Inclusion. Culture fit. Unconscious bias. These words are buzzing through the technology industry as the “Me Too” movement and a slew of high-profile cases of sexual harassment turn the spotlight on the industry’s diversity challenges.

The statistics can seem incredible: In a country where women actually make up a slight majority of the population, only about 30 percent of the tech industry is female. Despite initiatives across the industry to move the needle, that number hasn’t changed significantly in the past few years.

And in many cases, the percentage of women that hold technology roles is even lower, sometimes in the teens. At Microsoft, for example, 25 percent of all employees are female but just 19 percent of those in technology roles are.

“I think we’re still seeing a lot of talk and less action, and I hope that we can turn that corner,” said Mikaela Kiner, the founder and CEO of human resources company uniquelyHR.

Kiner and Apptio EVP of People and Culture Britt Provost join us on this episode of the GeekWire Podcast to discuss that important question: How can companies and individuals in the tech industry turn talk into action? What can we actually do to make tech more diverse?

Provost and Kiner both have a first-hand glimpse into how companies are trying to become more diverse and welcoming to women and, importantly, other minorities like black and Latina employees. They’ve also seen what works, and what doesn’t.

Listen to our full conversation in the player above or subscribe to the GeekWire Podcast in your favorite podcast app, including Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Overcast. Keep reading for selected excerpts from Provost and Kiner, including advice on how to change the industry from the inside out.

Make diversity and inclusion a priority from the start

“Make diversity and inclusion a very early part of your culture, your goals and your values. We all know that what gets measured gets done. That cliché exists for a reason. I think for leaders, you need to talk about this early and often, just like you do other aspects of the company, the product and who you are as a leader. You will probably be tired of hearing yourself talk about these topics and that’s when you’ll know that you’re doing a good job. ” — Kiner

Actively recruit diverse candidates

“I think the best way to approach this is through outreach. That is going to the communities, going to the events, going to the activities… Know your audience, do your research. There are places, from a community perspective, where you should send your recruiters and they should start building relationships, having conversations and figuring out who may be good candidates for the roles. Just living on LinkedIn doesn’t work anymore. You’ve got to get out and meet people and get to places. And I don’t think it’s the responsibility of people to come to you. I think it’s the responsibility of the company to go to the candidate. ” — Provost

Rethink “culture fit”

“One of the things that our company has started to talk about is getting away from the idea of ‘culture fit’ and getting to this idea of ‘culture add.’ Now, I’ve got to say, Heather Redman — one of our VC investors here in Seattle — came up with that terminology. So I’ve got to give her credit. But that idea is really provocative because you’re not just trying to get somebody to fit into your organization. You’re trying to think about how they grow you as a business, as an organization, as a culture, and like Mikaela has been saying — we both have been saying — this is hard. But ‘culture add’ adds to your innovation, adds to your bottom line. It just takes a little more effort.” — Provost

“I think the risk is that when companies are hiring for ‘culture fit,’ without defining what are the attributes and behaviors that we mean by that, it’s very easy to take a shortcut and say that person wasn’t a ‘culture fit.’ Now if I have a set of behaviors, I can be much more objective. I can be much more thoughtful and look for those behaviors that will augment the culture and not just ‘fit in.’ I think culture fit, which was a really good and exciting word in the last few years, is starting to become a little bit of a bad word — unless you will also talk about inclusion and diversity.” — Kiner

Set clear priorities for feedback

“[Think] about feedback and how you give feedback within the culture, what the rules of the road are for building those skill sets. Because I think that’s where a lot of things go wrong, not having that ability to have that open conversation with somebody. Feedback-training alignment [is important], in terms of how you give feedback as a culture and what your expectations are there — frequency, cadence, how often do you do this and how do you do it? I think that becomes really important to any company.” — Provost

Diversify during interviews

“[Think about] what kind of representation you have on your interview loops. We know that if I’m a woman and I see another woman as part of my interview panel, or if I’m an underrepresented minority — I’m really looking for people with some similarity to me and I’m looking for signs that I’m going to be welcome and included in this organization. That’s the best way to do it. I think the organizations that really struggle are those who get further in before addressing this.” — Kiner

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