Diversity and data: building an inclusive workplace in tech

Understanding the importance of balancing purpose and pace

If you’re active on Twitter, you may have stumbled across the Gender Pay Gap Bot. The account responds to corporate Tweets celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) with the median gender pay gap for that company, outing businesses that would try to gleam credit for celebrating IWD without applying its values to their payroll.

With almost 250,000 followers at the time of writing, the bot embodies the interest and the reach of conversations about diversity and inclusivity. It’s also a reminder that two stereotypically male-dominated industries – data and technology – have a compelling role to play in overturning inequality.

Combining genders, cultures, and ethnicities in the same environment is one of the most powerful means of challenging the status quo in any workplace. And data doesn’t lie; statistics are neutral facts that need interpretation and context to be truly valuable.

This means that it’s extremely important to avoid groupthink when handling data. But in industries traditionally dominated by one group, shifting the balance is no mean feat. Building a genuinely diverse workforce takes time, patience, and a long-term strategy – all of which can be hard to maintain in any organisation.

It’s easy to pay lip service to the idea of ‘purpose before profit’ without realising that a purpose-driven workplace full of diverse backgrounds is one of the most compelling drivers for business success. Leaders need to spearhead the charge, taking a top-down approach to crafting a purpose-filled workplace culture in which diverse people and opinions help the company innovate and thrive.

Best, not first

One of the more benign reasons for a lack of diversity in tech companies is the speed at which the industry moves. At Confluent, we often talk about ‘data in motion’ or accessing data in real-time – you don’t get much quicker than instantaneous!

This speed can encourage the fastest possible solution to a problem, particularly when it comes to wo/manpower. Companies can be tempted to take on the first person capable of filling a particular role without considering the longer-term impacts of doing so – sacrificing the long-term purpose for short-term profitability.

Given the importance of diversity, we’ve discussed so far, it should form a cornerstone of the hiring process. Integrating people from various backgrounds with different frames of reference and trains of thought adds substantial long-term value to how companies evolve.

At Confluent, for example, the long-term prioritisation of diversity has spread throughout the business, with women making up 36% of our executive staff. This puts us in an extremely strong position to foster an objective hiring process for the future and allows us to benefit from a wider range of opinions when building teams internally – which helps us innovate.

A cookie-cutter approach to hiring will lead to teams and ideas that are more or less the same shape. By contrast, avoiding the temptation to take the first candidate who might be a good fit will catalyse innovation down the road.

The value of introspection

For companies that haven’t yet been able to commit to such diversity, one of the most common obstacles is unconscious bias. Entrenched by circumstances and upbringing – not to mention the media barrage we’re subject to every day – they can be difficult even to identify, let alone change.

As much as we may feel that we’re totally fair, it’s so important to realise that our judgements are not bulletproof. Acknowledging that our biases may adversely impact workplace culture, or decelerate change or innovation, is an incredibly important step.

In many cases, the solution here is a framework in which we can examine our positions and contrast them with others. At Confluent, this takes place through our Women Inclusion Network, which serves as a platform to elevate the impact of women throughout the company. We can highlight industry-wide challenges and how we can tackle them through togetherness, introspection, and wider action.

The positive changes we achieve through this platform ripple out, as in any workplace. Each victory is a victory for diversity and an opportunity to question or challenge unidentified bias.

Looking forward

The technology industry has come on in leaps and bounds when it comes to diversity, particularly since I took my first role over twenty years ago. But there are huge strides still to be made.

I believe that a diverse work environment starts at the top and trickles down. As leaders, we are responsible for conveying the importance, benefits, and rationale towards establishing a diverse environment for our workforce.

If we can do that, we will start to help everyone across the company find their voice, building closer relationships with them and bringing the best out of them both personally and vocationally. We give people a purpose and let that drive business profitability rather than compromising our values for short-term financial gain.

Building a workplace that empowers individuals to be the best version of themselves, educating each other collectively in an environment that doesn’t settle for the status quo and doesn’t stymie creativity, is possible. A diverse workforce is at the heart of that ideal.

Jill Macmurchy, VP of Solutions Engineering, Confluent.

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