In a world where technology shapes our lives, I've come to realise the profound importance of diversity in tech teams. My journey has been a testament to this, and I want to share with you why diversity isn't just a buzzword; it's the secret ingredient to crafting exceptional tech products and services.
I understand the irony of a cisgender white man championing underrepresented groups, but I've witnessed the transformative power of embracing difference during my three decades in the tech industry. My hope is that by sharing my experiences, I can help others avoid repeating past mistakes and understand the value of diversity.
Focussing on the why and breaking the Echo Chamber
I've come to understand that building products and services for a diverse world requires a diverse team. If your team better reflects the individuals you're creating for, your chances of success soar. Diversity isn't just about doing the right thing; it's a pragmatic approach to success and profitability.
People like to build something valuable, fostering team unity, and instilling a sense of purpose. Which is why I like everyone in a team I manage to be able to answer and feel they have agency on these three core questions:
- What’s my role?
- How do I do it?
- Why are we doing this?
Guiding teams to understand their "why" and work cohesively applies universally, from start-ups to global enterprises. It's about creating value while working effectively with others.
Yet I've learned that having an eclectic team isn't enough if everyone's just echoing the same ideas. The true value comes from embracing individuality and giving each team member's unique voice a chance to be heard. It's about acknowledging that our target audience isn't a monolith; it's a mosaic of individuals with different backgrounds and life experiences.
Lived experiences are invaluable when it comes to product and service design. Take, for instance, the simple yet profound insight that as phones get larger, they become less user-friendly for people with smaller hands, such as most women. This underscores how the wider range of lived experiences we can draw on leads to better products and services for everyone.
Equity vs. Equality
I firmly believe that true diversity goes beyond mere equality; it's about equity. Equality is giving every member of staff a monitor, but what about someone in the team who is visually impaired? Yes, it’s equal but it doesn’t give them the tools to be able to fully participate in the working environment. Yet by using reasonable adjustments equity is giving these employees screen readers or voice recognition software so that they can access and interact with digital content and be successful in their role.
This same approach of equity should be applied to anything that makes us individuals. In terms of diversity of thought, every voice should have a platform, every perspective should be considered, and every unique approach should be valued.
A diverse and empowered team isn't something that happens overnight; it's a journey. It requires commitment, valuing other points of view, and the freedom to fail. We must give our team members the opportunity to use their unique skills and encourage them to learn from their mistakes. Instead of blaming, we should focus on learning and growth.
This isn't just about policies or special clubs for underrepresented groups. It's about fostering an environment where everyone can communicate freely. It's a two-way street – the team should communicate their needs, and the organisation should listen and act. Building two-way communication is crucial.
The Recruitment Challenge; Looking Beyond Quotas
I acknowledge that embracing diversity can make recruitment more challenging, at least initially. It requires educating hiring managers and rethinking job descriptions. Instead of listing "nice-to-haves," focus on core requirements to broaden your talent pool.
In my hiring philosophy, I've moved beyond viewing diversity as a mere quota to fill. I encourage focusing on what everyone can bring to the team. What unique skills or perspectives can they contribute? It's about recognizing that a team's strength lies in its differences.
Challenging the norm isn't easy, especially when it comes to hiring. I encourage looking beyond traditional indicators of success, such as prestigious universities or colleges, these have been proven to be flawed anyway. Instead, consider values, common goals, and innate skills like curiosity and problem-solving. Rather than excluding candidates, think instead about what someone would add to your business.
In the quest for diversity, we're not building a cult; we're building teams united by a common goal.
Through my journey, I've learned that diversity isn't a hindrance; it's a wellspring of innovation and success. It's a catalyst that propels tech teams toward excellence, enabling them to create products and services that resonate with the multifaceted world they serve. As we embark on this journey together, let's embrace diversity as an asset that fuels our collective success in the ever-evolving tech landscape.