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4 Tech Companies with Fresh Approaches to Diversity and Inclusion

Traditionally dominated by white men, the industry needs concrete action to bridge gaps

Diana Pressey
Contributor

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There’s no denying workplace diversity matters. Companies that emphasize diversity and inclusion are better equipped to serve their employees and customers because they’re more likely to have people on their teams who can relate to one another and their target audience.

Diverse workplaces also benefit from faster problem-solving, improved innovation, stronger decision-making, and higher employee retention. Diversity helps companies attract talent, with 67 percent of job seekers reporting diversity and inclusion as important factors in their decisions to accept offers. And it’s even been found to boost revenue, as diverse companies are likely to outperform those that are more homogenous. Generally, diverse companies are perceived more favorably by the consumers they seek to attract.

The tech industry, in particular, has been dominated by white men for decades—and still is. White men hold the most leadership positions in the tech industry, and the industry’s diversity problem is even impacting advancement. (Ever heard of discriminatory bias in artificial intelligence? It’s an issue.) One study called Elephant in the Valley found that 60 percent of women surveyed in Silicon Valley had experienced unwanted sexual advances, 66 percent felt excluded from workplace social activities because of their gender, and 90 percent had witnessed sexism at company events.

Continued and pointed diversity efforts would lower those numbers, but what exactly does that look like in a tech workplace? It’s easy to list it as a priority, but actually embracing diversity takes concrete action. It’s about more than just modifying hiring practices to fill a quota or instating anti-discrimination HR policies. Here are four companies that have done an excellent job of fostering inclusion in the workplace:

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Palo Alto Networks

Approach: Fair hiring, full-spectrum diversity, and frequent self-evaluation

At Palo Alto Networks, a cybersecurity technology company in California, diversity comes down to the value of various perspectives.

“We believe diversity is more than just race, gender, and ethnicity,” says Maya Marcus, the company’s vice president of people. “It’s also about creating a workforce that embraces every culture, language, age, sexual orientation, disability, background, and experience—and giving a voice to those differences is how we define inclusion.”

Palo Alto Networks’ approach to this full-spectrum diversity—a term used often by Cisco, yet another company with strong diversity efforts—is three-pronged. Inclusion is incorporated as a value at the heart of its company culture; diversity is a focus at every step of recruitment and hiring; and the company often assesses its practices to ensure equitability.

Palo Alto Networks works to create more pathways into the field and increase accessibility through strategic partnerships and education programs. It also ensures its hiring pipeline and recruiting channels are fully inclusive and equitable through continuous evaluation. It conducts yearly pay equity analyses through an external firm, has taken steps to address pay gaps, and is “committed to eliminating unexplainable differences in pay,” Marcus says.

Microsoft

Approach: Higher-up diversity, supporting diverse employees, and expanding the hiring pipeline

Palo Alto Networks’ approach has a lot in common with giant tech company Microsoft, which has one of the most diverse boards of directors in the tech industry, with six of its 14 members being women and people of color. Employee resource groups representing various backgrounds connect Microsoft with communities while supporting inclusive hiring and marketing.

Microsoft also has a program called YouthSpark to train and recruit people in underserved communities early on in their careers. The program works with schools, teachers, and nonprofits to provide education on crucial digital skills to 300 million children in 100 countries. It currently offers opportunities in countries like Sri Lanka, where it has conducted coding sessions and hackathons to demonstrate to them the possibilities of a career in technology. This clever corporate social responsibility strategy not only boosts the company’s brand but also helps it recruit from a larger pool of people with a wide range of backgrounds.

Asana

Approach: Asking for outside help and accepting compromise

Asana is a task management and productivity application designed by Dustin Moskovitz, the former chief technology officer of Facebook. To approach its lack of diversity, Asana first sought help from Paradigm, a diversity and inclusion strategy firm that uses social research to identify barriers and biases.

Paradigm found that Asana's original interview process, which entailed intimidating whiteboard interviews or interviewers interrogating candidates as they write code to solve challenges, was disproportionately harming women’s chances at being hired. They’d do well on other tests, but whiteboard interview performance was substantially lower. When interviewers left the room, that changed. Now, Asana no longer incorporates whiteboard interviews in a compromise that has significantly diversified its new hiring process.

Cisco

Approach: Applying tech, breaking down barriers, and listening to employees

Software company Cisco has implemented development programs worldwide by partnering with global organizations such as Executive Leadership Council (ELC), Hispanic IT Executive Council (HITEC), and Out and Equal. Similar to Palo Alto Networks, Cisco supports full-spectrum diversity. It does so through its Office of Inclusion and Collaboration.

Cisco taps into its expertise to facilitate inclusion with technology such as the LifeChanger app, which helps people with disabilities adapt to Cisco’s workplace. Its pay parity framework incorporates tech by using analytics to assess its compensation system. Cisco is one of the 28 founding signers of the Obama-era White House Equal Pay Pledge, which was also signed by companies such as AT&T, eBay, Estée Lauder, and Mastercard. It has also joined 24 other companies in the Employers for Pay Equity Consortium, a pay equity pledge signed by 26 organizations on April 2, Equal Pay Day. This pledge entailed businesses dedicating themselves to avoiding caps on promotional increases, publishing annual pay equity reporters, frequently analyzing compensation processes, and more.

Beyond that, Cisco implements several measures in the workplace to ensure its employees feel heard and comfortable speaking up on issues that matter to them. These include conversation guides for respectful open dialogue. The company also advocates for “long-term solutions that build fairness into policies, practices, and laws that break down barriers.”

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