One happy side effect of Buffer’s value of defaulting to transparency and sharing lots of what we’re working on and going through as a company is that you get to have lots of great conversations.
Folks from other companies read what we’re up to and share advice about similar situations, or share a challenge they’re going through and ask for advice.
And the No. 1 question I get asked is this: How does a company begin to approach the topic of diversity and inclusion for the first time? Folks are often looking for the right way to frame the topic so no one feels excluded or undervalued, and the right resources to share to get a group moving in the same direction.
It’s a particularly tricky challenge because the stakes are high: Implementing diversity training programs the wrong way can actually have the opposite effect: they can make majority groups feel threatened, have little positive effect and may even decrease representation of the groups that would make an organization more diverse.
I definitely don’t have all the answers here, but I’ll share here with you what I shared with Buffer teammates early in our diversity and inclusion journey as we figured out the answers together.
As a global company, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to bring a variety of cultures, backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives to our work in order to truly represent our customers. Improving our team’s diversity and creating an inclusive company is something we’ve been consciously working on improving in recent years.
Collectively, Buffer is already diverse in lots of ways. We live in many different countries. We speak a ton of languages. We come from and are part of different types of families. We hold various religious beliefs — or none. But we still have work to do to not only welcome these differences, but also strive to increase the visibility of traditionally underrepresented groups.
And diversity is only half of the equation. While diversity is the work we do to bring underrepresented groups and perspectives into our workplace, inclusion is how we make everyone on the team feel.
One metaphor that sums it up nicely: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”
There are three main reasons that I believe any business can and should focus on diversity:
- It makes teams more innovative
- It builds better products
- It’s creating the future of work
Let’s look at each one in a bit more detail.
Diversity benefit #1: Creative, innovative, happier teams
It turns out, socially diverse groups (those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.
There are a few reasons for this:
- People with different backgrounds bring unique information and experiences to tasks.
- Interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, anticipate alternative viewpoints, and expect that reaching consensus will take effort.
- Diversity encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving.
Here’s a graph from an empirical study indicating that people with more diverse sources of information generate consistently better ideas.
The vertical axis shows an assessments of a series of employee ideas by their managers in the field of supply-chain management. The horizontal axis measures the level of diversity in an employee’s internal connections.
The graph shows that there’s a positive correlation between a higher diversity of connections and the perception of higher quality ideas.
This data is borne out in the results of studies of diverse teams, where a few other findings include:
- Racially diverse teams outperform non-diverse ones by 35%.
- Companies with women in top leadership roles are more profitable.
A focus on diversity also brings in more candidates: In a Glassdoor survey, two-thirds of those polled said that diversity was important to them when evaluating companies and job offers. Deloitte found that 80 percent of employees say that inclusion is an important factor in choosing an employer.
There is also a direct correlation between greater inclusivity and long term success — notably measurable improvements in office morale and business health.
Source: Women Who Tech
Evidence consistently shows that companies led by women and embracing diversity in leadership achieve better results in terms of innovation and creativity, and better bottom lines. One study of 22,000 publicly-traded companies in 91 countries, found that companies with 30% female executives take in as much as 6% more in profits.
Diversity benefit #2: Building better products
A second big reason to devote time and resources to diversity and inclusion is that it helps create and better products. This is especially important for us at Buffer, as we have customers all around the world.
Algorithms and products are not neutral. They’re built by humans and used by humans, and our biases rub off on the technology. A few examples in which this has led to less-than-inclusive products:
- When YouTube first rolled out its iOS app for uploading video, 5 to 10 percent of videos were uploaded upside-down. The company’s almost exclusively right-handed developer team didn’t consider the needs of the left-handed.
- Oculus initially caused motion sickness in women because the equipment was developed and tested primarily by men.
- People with mental health or other issues who try to get help from Siri and Alexa – often can’t.
- Apple’s Health app for tracking “key health metrics” initially left off a tracker that about half the world’s population might use on a monthly basis: one for the menstrual cycle.
- Google is more likely to advertise executive-level salaried positions to search engine users if it thinks the user is male.
- The only artificial heart on the market fits 80 percent of men and only 20 percent of women.
- Female drivers are 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash because test crash dummies were modeled after the average male in height, weight, and stature.
- Racial biases are baked into the software products that are increasingly being used as predictive tools in criminal sentencing.
In a workplace of diverse individuals from different backgrounds and experiences, we can all more effectively consider all the needs of our audience, which includes a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.
Diversity benefit #3: Creating the future of work
Buffer’s value of gratitude means that we take time often to stop and be grateful for our lives: the ability to work from any place in the world we like, with folks who are positive and uplifting.
It’s important that these opportunities be available for all. Right now, they’re not.
- Black and Latinx folks, who collectively represent almost 30% of the U.S. population, still make up only 5% of people in tech.
- Only 18% of the top management positions at companies are held by women, according to McKinsey’s 2016 Women in the Workplace Report.
- Women of color only hold 3% of those senior positions.
According to USA Today, the pipeline of talent is not the problem in the U.S. Last year, 4.5% of all new recipients of bachelor’s degrees in computer science or computer engineering from prestigious research universities were black, and 6.5% were Hispanic. Black and Latinx students are graduating with CS degrees at twice the rate that tech companies are hiring them.
This lack of representation has very real repercussions for younger people of color. No black students sat for the AP Computer Science exam in eleven states in 2013; Latinx students didn’t sit for the exam in eight states.
As we all create the future of work, we have the opportunity to be the change we wish to see.
Over to you
Buffer’s core values include listening with a goal of understanding, a focus on doing the right thing and an emphasis on constant self-improvement. It’s been exciting to discover that these are the very attitudes that can help our team create a more diverse and inclusive Buffer.
If you’re considering broaching the topic of diversity and inclusion in your team, I hope some of this information might help get the conversation started. What are other benefits you can think of? Would love to hear your thoughts about all of this in the comments below!
P.S.: Want to follow along with Buffer’s diversity journey? Check out our Diversity Dashboard to see the makeup of the Buffer team.