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Esther Cepeda: Diversifying the workplace is a net gain for us all

First Published      Last Updated Jul 17 2016 10:06 am

CHICAGO • There is near-universal agreement that Silicon Valley needs more diversity.

Attaining it is usually thought of as a numbers game in which organizations try to get the percentage of their non-white staff to reflect that of the U.S. population. The reason usually cited for the need to diversify is the "business case." The thinking goes that diverse backgrounds make for better products, services and innovations.

In a recent Harvard Business Review post, "We're Making the Wrong Case for Diversity in Silicon Valley," diversity consultant Todd L. Pittinsky challenges this assumption.




"Does that case have any relevance in Silicon Valley? Here we have one of the least diverse sectors of the U.S. economy. According to data obtained from the Labor Department and reported by Mother Jones, the top Silicon Valley tech firms lag well behind the general population in diversity. And the problem is most pronounced in the very belly of the beast: the technical jobs. The Valley's tech workers are overwhelmingly men (83 percent) who are white or Asian (94 percent)," wrote Pittinsky.

"Yet Silicon Valley is also by far one of the most innovative collections of people not only in the U.S. today but perhaps anywhere, ever. This might explain why the creativity and innovation arguments for workplace diversity, while seemingly compelling at first blush, haven't had the expected impact on business investment in diversity."

Still, even for high-tech companies that are already commercially successful, there are other compelling arguments.

Daisy Auger-Dominguez, one of Google's highest-ranking Hispanics, tells this story about the indefinable impact she sees.

"I've been in diversity and inclusion for 10 years and I'm keenly aware of being the Latina in the room advocating for Latinos and women and not apologizing for it," Auger-Dominguez told me. "But it's not the same situation as being a young, new Latina hire. That became clear to me one day when I met with a younger Latina on staff. I've been in my career long enough that I don't have to worry about what other people think, so when we were introduced, I greeted her with a hug, a kiss on the cheek, I spoke in Spanish and we had a nice talk. I later found out — because she blogged about it, a very Google-y thing to do — that when we broke off she went into the elevator to cry because she had never in her career seen herself reflected in a leader that looked like her mother or her aunt. I was really struck by that, it reminded me of the phrase, 'You can't be what you can't see.'"

Auger-Dominguez, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage, joined Google as global head of diversity staffing a year ago to help bring up its diversity numbers. The tech giant recently released its latest statistics and though the company is committed to boosting its ranks of women, Hispanics and blacks, it remains a work in progress.

As of January of this year, only 31 percent of their staff was female, and a scant 2 percent black. Hispanics represented 3 percent of the workforce compared with 32 percent Asians and 59 percent whites.

Auger-Dominguez says that Google is putting in a wide variety of long-term programs aimed at cultivating potential Google candidates starting in kindergarten with K-12 school curriculum. From there, the focus is on university programs that develop a steady stream of graduates who are ready to join Google after. The company is also changing internal hiring processes to eliminate interviewer and hiring bias.

Her task goes beyond the operational, however. "Internally and externally, my role is to create narrative images, profiles and stories to help others outside of Google see themselves at Google and to help those who are already here feel they are at home and can aspire to be anywhere in the organization."

Pittinsky suggests that we need to think larger than the "business case" reasoning. "We should embrace diversity because it provides a foundation for a healthy society. If we can become more disciplined and precise in learning how to create and maintain it in the right ways, this will make for a more prosperous and productive economy in the future."

In other words, channeling people from the most disadvantaged populations toward excellent career opportunities is good for us all.

estherjcepeda@washpost.com

Twitter, @estherjcepeda

 

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