A business case for diversity in the heart of ‘Brotown’
- 05 June, 2017 13:30
Silicon Valley is not known for its diversity. And its ‘brotown’ image is not helped by the too-frequent horror stories that come out of the companies based there.
Take former Uber engineer Susan Fowler’s explosive February blog post describing sexism and misconduct at the ride-hailing firm. Or April’s US Department of Labor lawsuit against Google for “systemic compensation disparities” between males and females.
The likes of Twitter, Apple, Oracle and Tesla have all been publicly accused of gender bias or racial discrimination in recent years, helping to render the small corner of California a particularly unwelcoming place for women and people of colour.
But let’s not be too hasty to stereotype. Not all tech firms with offices in the valley are as unwelcoming as they might seem.
Increasingly, big brand corporates are realising that a diverse workforce is a commercial advantage; leading them to better decision-making and better products. And as the battle for talent continues, they are keen to tap people other than the usual suspects.
One such company – 41-year-old software giant CA Technologies – has just been named one of the best companies for multicultural women and scored full marks on an index rating companies on LGBT equality.
“It's not just because it's the right thing to do. It's not just because it's 2017,” says CA chief product officer Ayman Sayed. “It's also because it's good for businesses.”
How we roll
At CA’s Silicon Valley offices in Santa Clara, amid the trendy sofas carved from oil barrels and the standing desks, are posters of a DNA helix entitled “How we roll”.
Alongside the corporate culture tropes like ‘Agile’, ‘results orientated’ and ‘customer-centric’, are written values like ‘socially aware’ and ‘self-aware’.
“We take culture and DNA very seriously,” says Sayed, an Egyptian who joined CA in 2015 from Cisco. “This is not just a marketing slogan, we actually live by this. This is a distillation of who we are and what makes us different. And we spend a lot of time reflecting and focusing on this.”
Although culture in itself can’t improve diversity, it informs the company’s recruitment approach and the staff benefits package.
For each job vacancy, CA’s ‘diverse candidate slate’ requires at least two candidates in every pool to be ‘diverse’. And the interview panel must also have minority representation.
“We’re consciously trying to avoid bringing in a bunch of people who think the same way; because we know we need new perspectives and new ideas. [We’re focused] on reducing bias in the recruitment process and managing against individual unconscious bias,” explains CA’s HR head Beth Conway.
“It's not okay to open a position for an SVP or a VP or a developer and have 10 male applicants,” adds Sayed.
CA recently rolled out generous parental leave benefits, open to fathers and adoptive parents as well as mothers. Earlier this year the company was named one of the best companies to work for LGBT employees in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. CA was one of the first companies in the US to cover same-sex partners in its health insurance. The company’s health plan includes coverage for transgender surgery.
Less ‘rules’, more ‘roll’
Although the diverse candidate slate and employee benefits are set rules, it’s the company’s DNA that gets results, says Sayed.
“Having this DNA in place means that people do the right thing without you going and policing it and measuring it,” he explains. “Do I want to go and measure business unit by business unit management and assign everybody quotas and drive it this way? I will if I have to. But the good news is people do the right thing because they really believe in these values.”
Last year, 13 per cent of senior management hires at CA were multicultural women. In the last two years the company has increased the number of women in technical roles by 14 per cent.
The gender make-up of the company’s workforce is far from parity. Women make up 28 per cent of staff globally. The ethnicity of its US employees is 75 per cent white, but getting closer and closer to mirroring the general population, according to the company’s own figures publicly released earlier this year.
These figures are about average among the bigger tech corporates. In Australia, IT related industries are among the worst in terms of female representation in the workforce and the disparity in pay between males and females, according to data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we’re on the right track,” says Conway.
Like its competitors, CA now sees diversity as a commercial advantage. The evidence is overwhelming. For example, a much cited 2015 McKinsey report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above national industry medians. An EY and Peterson Institute for International Economics report from 2016 found companies with 30 per cent or more female leaders had net profit margins up to 6 percentage points higher than companies with no women in the top ranks.
“You are far more likely to achieve the right decision if you have folks people that don't think alike,” says Sayed. “It translates to a higher degree of resiliency, better decision making, better business outcomes. It is a business imperative. It's good for the business as simple as that, not just the right thing to do.”
Being diverse also helps to attract the best talent.
“To attract people who bring great new ideas and different ways of thinking, we need a culture that supports what they bring. People should not have to pretend they’re like everybody else, because what they’re bringing is what is ultimately going to enable our company to be successful,” says Conway.