Tech Leaders Tackle Inequality in the Workplace

Women sitting in front of laptop that says "ideas"

Photo credit: Unsplash.com

The tech industry is blooming, but it’s far behind the curve in terms of equality. Women under 25 working in the tech industry earn, on average, 29% less than men their age. The disparity continues at an executive level; women hold just 11% of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies — and 83% of tech executives are white. How can we address these issues and create a tech industry that is equal for all?

To get some answers, we asked leaders inside the Equality Lounge at Google Cloud Next to share real-world advice on how to transform workplaces and create cultures of belonging, where people of all genders, races, ages and backgrounds feel safe speaking up. Here’s what we found out:

Actively seek out people who aren’t like you

Whether it’s inviting someone from a different background to a meeting or making sure that your job candidates are diverse, be mindful about bringing to the table people who don’t look, think, or act like you.

Also important is helping people of all backgrounds rise into leadership positions. We tend to promote people who are similar to ourselves. “It’s about breaking the ‘mini-me cycle’ in sponsorship,” said Janet Foutty, CEO of Deloitte Consulting. “I challenge our leaders to choose five people to sponsor, and at least two of them should look or act nothing them.”  

Understand what motivates people

It’s critical in the workplace today to really understand competing objectives in the room before you can reach a common goal. “Typically when you have conflict, people aren’t really reading each other,” said Sherice Torres, Director Brand Studio Marketing at Google. She said that we all want the same things at the end of the day: To grow our business, advance our careers, and meet our company’s objectives. “By trying to understand the perspectives of the people in the room and their backstories—both personally and professionally—I can better be that mediator to help us all reach that common goal.”

Something Sherice does with her own team is to organize a meeting where members come with two objectives that they would like the others at the table to help them achieve in the next year—both professionally and personally—to enable the team to understand what’s important to each other.

Panelists in the Girls' Lounge at Google Cloud Next

Transforming workplace culture was the panel topic in the Equality Lounge at Google Cloud Next

Have a pre-meeting to find common ground

“I believe in the power of the pre-meeting,” said Sherice. “Big decisions are never made in a large group; there are too many egos, too many competing objectives.” She said talking to stakeholders in advance to understand what’s holding people back and what their concerns are makes for a more productive meeting when the time comes to reach a consensus. Plus, key stakeholders will feel like it is also their idea.

Bring your whole self to work

We want to work with people we know and like, Sherice pointed out. “Early in my career, I thought that I needed to have a persona or wear a mask to work, but as a more senior leader I got feedback that people didn’t fully trust me because they felt like they don’t know me,” she said. “It was frustrating and eye opening to me, because I was raised to bring your professional self to work and mind your Ps and Qs. I learned that people want to have a better understanding of who you are as a human, and what your vulnerabilities are.”

Celebrate your failures

One way Janet encourages employees to bring their authentic selves to work is to celebrate each other’s failures. “It’s really important in a culture that is focused on hitting those sale objectives to also emphasize that you can’t win if don’t make a mistake once in a while,” said Janet. “If you’re always hitting your goals, those goals aren’t high enough. Celebrating failures shows everyone it’s okay to fail, and it’s only failure if you don’t learn from it.”

Create safe spaces for conversations

Allowing employees to show their vulnerabilities leads to more open conversations, which is vital in order to create a safe space where people feel that they can really speak up and challenge each other. “If you don’t create safe spaces for these conversations, transformation won’t happen,” said Trent Lund, PwC Australia Partner, Head of Innovation & Ventures.

Show up as a family

Listening and learning from each other is key for creating workplaces of belonging.  For Nina Harding, Channel Chief, Global Partner Strategy & Programs at Google, it’s a non-negotiable. “I want us all to be listening and learning from our experiences with each other,” she said. “ We show up as a family; we don’t always have to agree, but at the end of the day we act like a family, have each other’s backs, and show up together.”

Remember, at the end of the day it’s all of our responsibility to make change happen.