Diversity & Inclusion – Let’s Make It Personal!

In my introductory post to this series, I said I wasn’t going to spend too much time trying to convince people who didn’t care about diversity that they should. In my second post, I shared the business case anyway. But here’s where my attempt to convince is going to end. That’s because all the literature I’ve read on why some D&I initiatives work and others don’t come to the same conclusion. If the leaders don’t have a personal stake in D&I, D&I will not succeed in their organizations. D&I takes time, money, effort and faith.

Most of the interpersonal gains from D&I take time to manifest in measurable metrics like increased profit margins or decreased attrition rates. Some of the changes are immeasurable, but key. How, after all, do we expect to be able to measure things like social friction in problem-solving? How do we measure how much more effective solutions produced by diverse groups are? Unless you’re willing to perform A/B testing on your own employees (don’t do this), there’s no real way to quantify this. Ultimately, investing in D&I isn’t justifiable in the short term if all you’re relying on is traditional business metrics. Like any other social metric, the outcomes defy measurement and isolation.

So we come back to the core of all this. You have to care.

People have talked about all the reasons D&I is important from a sheer numbers perspective ad nauseam. I have too. But if the numbers are what get you pumped for D&I, then the numbers are going to get you disillusioned too. So let’s get past the business case. Let’s acknowledge that D&I comes down to you.

What if you’re still reading this waiting to be convinced? The real reason you jump into the deep end of D&I is because you believe people different from yourself have value, but let me give you one more uncommonly quoted, very selfish reason for buckling down.

Leading a diverse team makes you a better leader.

Not just because of all the business-oriented payoff reflected in my previous article, but because dissent is one of the great things about having different types of people around you. Dealing with conflict gracefully — listening, synthesizing, and acting on issues raised by disagreement- is one of the hallmarks of a great leader. Choosing to work with people different from yourself [i]and valuing them for that difference[/i] opens more doors- from the business partners you’ll be equipped to work with, to the companies that will be happy to keep you around. Cultivating a sense of personal stake in D&I will allow you to hope that you have the capacity to be a great mentor and leader. If you think you can excel in today’s world with any other attitude, you haven’t been paying attention.

As much as I find the injustices of prejudice compelling and important, I’m nowhere near the most qualified or vocal person writing on public forums about this issue. But D&I impacts tech across many different facets, and it’s that intersection I’m going to focus on. My assumption from here on out will be that as a reader, you’re not only concerned but also willing to act. I’m going to talk about the specific spaces in tech that are most prone to replicating real-world biases, and how to address it. I’m going to write with the hope that I can help raise the bar in tech of what due diligence looks like when it comes to ethics. At the risk of coming off a bit dramatically let me adapt some Edmund Burke. The only thing necessary for the perpetuation of discrimination is for good people to ignore it.

You may not be a technologist, but today’s economy relies on tech and as tech advances, it has to learn to see the pressing social questions hammering at its door. There is no egalitarianism inherent to the making and dissemination of tech. The sooner we recognize that and adjust accordingly, the better off our world will be.

So, the rest of this series will go like this. I’ll write a bit about how to not suck at D&I. As someone who likes to take action, my assumption is that you’re inclined to do the same. The how of corporate D&I initiatives remains largely the same across industries, and there are lots to share that will be applicable for everyone who is interested. Then, I’ll drill down into specific technological challenges, and try to translate between worlds. Many people aim to be rational actors, and we like the idea that math can be used as a basis for our decisions (think KPIs, ROIs, ROR, etc). Tech promises to make rational decisions on our behalf but it often fails, and the sooner business gains insight into how and why, the better. I’ll cover topics like machine learning algorithms, privacy, internationalization, and accessibility, first illustrating the challenges, then offering actionable solutions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of these problems can at least start to be addressed by D&I initiatives. For many of them, the solutions go deeper and start to rely on not only diversity of people but diversity of professions. These problems call for new approaches to data, deep technical solutions, and new voices at the table.

I’ll also do my best to address your questions as they come up. Whether you’re a data scientist looking to handle bias more effectively, a developer noticing a shortage of perspective in the room, or a business leader wondering how to bake some social priorities into processes and business plans, I’ll do my best to be a resource.

Thanks again for following along- if you’ve liked this series so far, consider following to get an update when I post the next article.

AUTHOR – Ursula Moreno-Vanderlaan


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