The Business Case for Diversity and Inclusion

Mar 24, 2020

Increasing the diversity and inclusiveness of the digital infrastructure industry makes good business sense. For one, it’s the only way to bridge the talent gap (it’s just math: there simply aren’t enough white men to fill all the positions that are or will be open). But there are other benefits too – like the kind of diversity of thought that inspires innovation. Getting there will require efforts from every direction: attraction and retention, plus changing recruiting practices and company cultures.

This is the last in our End User Summit Top-of-Mind Blog Series, which reflects the top issues discussed during the Infrastructure Masons October 2019 End User Summit in San Jose. Attendees included senior-level end user leaders from across the globe, IM Foundation Partner executives, and members of the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Committee.

Like talent in general, diversity and inclusion was a topic of discussion among all the groups at the End User Summit, including of course, the first meeting of the iMasons Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Committee. Summit attendees broadly acknowledged that solving the talent gap requires looking to as-yet untapped pools of talent – to women, veterans, Latinos, and younger generations, among others.

Diversity and inclusion is about fostering an environment where people of a range of ages, genders, and races with a variety of backgrounds, talents, and experiences feel welcomed and valued.

It’s a testament to the success of Infrastructure Masons’ 50/50 initiative that just about half of the Summit attendees were women – and not just in the D&I group. As one member of the network discussion group put it, “I'm so happy to say that our network forum actually was 50/50 women and men, which is really unique when you get network engineers together.”

Of course, diversity and inclusion is not just about gender diversity. It’s about, as one hyperscale leader put it, diversity of thought. “Where people are from, what their backgrounds are, what their journeys have been – that's actually what diversity brings to the table. Diversity of thought happens by having a huge dynamic range of people with different backgrounds.”

“Bridging the talent gap requires looking to as-yet untapped pools of talent – to women, veterans, Latinos, and younger generations, among others.” – Click to tweet

Attraction and retention

Solving the digital infrastructure industry’s talent gap will require bringing new people of diverse genders, races, and backgrounds into the industry. That is an effort of awareness and education, starting as early as middle school – about the fact that digital infrastructure is the foundation of the internet, and that there are many different pathways for exciting and rewarding careers.

Bridging the talent gap will also require retaining people. (“You can't have diversity without inclusion.”) The combination of attraction and retention is what one D&I committee member calls a top-down and bottom-up approach.

An example of that approach is one member’s “push up/ pull up” initiative, which institutionalized the development of diverse talent via mentorship and training – from leaders who are themselves diverse. “In the Emerging Executive Program, high-potential junior people get partnered with a senior executive from another company. I’ve mentored someone every year for the last three years. Right now, I'm mentoring a VP of software development. Every other month we have webinar trainings on topics like how to ask for a raise, how to ask for a promotion, how to do career leadership, how to work on your resume. In addition, participants get one-on-one coaching on business problems.”

Bottom line, said another D&I committee member: “We need to make sure that we're not just hiring women [and other underrepresented people], but training them too.”

“You can't have diversity without inclusion.” – Click to tweet

Yes, there is a business case for diversity and inclusion

There was broad agreement among Summit attendees that diversity and inclusion makes good business sense. (Indeed, it is the only way to bridge the talent gap.) But that business case isn’t always clear to company leaders. As one supplier explained, “Most of the CEOs don't really know how to have a diversity and inclusion program. They don't know why they should.”

“We should be talking about the success stories, about how diverse organizations are out-competing the ones that aren’t diverse,” explained one hyperscale leader. “Getting D&I initiatives approved becomes easy when executives realize how diversity changes the game – how businesses become hyper successful because of diversity of thought.”

“We should be talking about how diverse organizations are out-competing the ones that aren’t diverse.” – Click to tweet

Recruiting practices need to change

Attraction can be fostered by awareness and education programs that inspire people to pursue careers in the digital infrastructure industry. Once people get into the industry, inclusiveness can be fostered through retention programs like the “push up/ pull up” Emerging Executive Program. But to bridge the gap between the two, recruiting practices have to change.

“So, yes, the company accepts a culture of diversity and inclusion, but what have they done to actually change the recruiting practices?” asked one D&I committee member. “For example, the language on job requisitions. And, are companies holding their staffing teams and people ops teams accountable for hiring a certain number of diverse candidates? There’s a huge need for education there.”

One concrete idea for changing recruiting practices is the standardization of job descriptions. “We're leveraging the job description coding work that's coming out of the Uptime Institute,” explained one D&I committee member. “So there's one taxonomy. So we can all agree on the job description – and requirements – for each type of position.”

By eliminating the individual judgment inherent when recruiters write their own job descriptions, standardization removes the opportunity for recruiters’ biases (however unintentional) to come through. From a gender diversity perspective, standardized job descriptions could yield more female applicants if they’re written to take into account the fact that women tend to apply based on credentials (only applying when their resumes closely match the job requirements) and men tend to apply based on potential (applying even if their resumes don’t hardly match the requirements at all).

“To bridge the gap between attracting a diverse workforce and retaining them, recruiting practices have to change.” – Click to tweet

And D&I needs to be part of the company culture

At the end of the day, all the best laid plans need a solid foundation to build on. In this case, it’s a culture of diversity and inclusion. “Truly having a culture of D&I means that you lead by example,” said one committee member. “You do it because you want to, not because you have to. You do it because you actually see the value of D&I. It’s not just about meeting a quota; you see how it positively impacts the bottom line.”

It’s not a one-and-done kind of effort. As one Summit attendee explained, “D&I needs to become commonplace. It’s not that you take a class and walk away and say, ‘Okay, that's done.’ It needs to be practiced.”

Building that kind of culture is about education around not the what of D&I (though that’s important) but the why. “So we should challenge ourselves on this,” said one committee member. “One, do you know what diversity and inclusion is? Two, do you believe in it, do you see the value in it? And three, how are you holding yourself accountable for actually becoming more diverse and inclusive?”

Without a culture of diversity and inclusion, it can be extremely difficult for underrepresented groups to thrive in a company or industry. It is culture that creates opportunities for developing social capital – that intangible resource which is essential to a successful career. Especially when it comes to gender diversity. Women often are excluded from opportunities for developing social capital, often by men with no ill intent.

One D&I committee member shared her experience in a company that didn’t have a D&I culture: “The team was 90% male. We all reported to an EVP. Every afternoon at 2:00 the EVP would invite the guy in the cubicle next to mine to go for coffee. The EVP was an open-minded guy, so one day I went up to him and said, ‘You always invite him for coffee, but you never invite me. Do you realize that when you go to the coffee shop, you guys are talking strategy and building social capital. You come back and debrief me but I wasn’t part of the conversation and didn’t get that opportunity to build social capital with you.’ He responded, ‘I never even thought about it that way. One of the reasons I never invited you is I didn’t want people to see us at the coffee shop together and assume something was going on.’ But he understood my point, and he started inviting both of us to coffee.” That scenario wouldn’t occur in a company with a D&I culture; the EVP would never ‘not think about’ excluding the female colleague.

“Truly having a culture of diversity and inclusion means you do it because you want to, not because you have to. You do it because you actually see the business value of D&I.” – Click to tweet

Bottom line

Building more diverse and inclusive companies – and a more diverse and inclusive industry – is one of those “doing good while doing well” kind of efforts. It isn’t done as charity for underrepresented groups; it’s done because it’s a powerful source of competitive advantage for companies, and the only way to bridge the industry’s talent gap. But it also does have the effect of bringing more people from underrepresented groups into the workforce – and that’s a good thing all around.

Check out these previous posts in the End User Summit Top-of-Mind Blog Series:


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