June 7, 2017•Dr. Leeno Karumanchery
If I read one more article that starts off with, “Silicon Valley has a Diversity Problem,” I think I’ll open a window and let out the loudest primal scream that I can muster. Don’t get me wrong, there is a problem, and it’s a big one…it’s just that diversity isn’t it. The problem is culture.
When Stephen Covey said “First seek to understand, then to be understood”, he was making a vital statement about the importance of setting ego aside in communication. Covey was reminding us that it actually takes effort and skill to see from the perspective of others because our human tendency is to filter experiences through the lens of self-reference (e.g. our feelings, personal histories, beliefs, etc.). Think of the employer who openly berates a staff member for what he deems to be a lackluster performance. He doesn’t question the quality of his own leadership, doesn’t consider the employee’s feelings, nor does he think about how his behavior impacts those around them.
Although we tend to outgrow the simple “me-me-me” ego-centrism of youth, most of us still get caught in the intent-impact gap. This is the comforting belief that people can understand the intent behind our behaviour. The problem is that we judge ourselves by our intent and everyone else judges us by our impact. Combine this near universal human frailty with what Social Psychologists call the Assumed Similarity Bias (the arbitrary and often false assumption that other people see things from our perspective), that they share our values and that they feel what we feel.
Herein lies the deeper problem facing too many tech companies today…particularly as it relates to issues of diversity. Whether it’s a glass ceiling, a sense of creative stagnation, general workplace conditions or even the artwork on the wall (I mean, everyone doesn’t like Star Trek right?), people need to feel they belong if they are going to flourish — It’s called Ambient Belonging. We all have an intrinsic drive to have our needs met… and the everyday “needs” of minoritized bodies are too often an afterthought in Silicon Valley. Little wonder that women continue to leave the tech industry at nearly twice the rate of men.
Just as Covey reminded us that interpersonal communication is a skill that needs to be honed, so too is the development and maintenance of healthy culture. In spite of the millions of dollars in time and resources spent on the “problem of diversity” over the last decade, cultural health just doesn’t seem to be on the radar. Organizations must do more than simply get “different people” through the door. Unless your culture has those employees wanting to stay, and able to thrive, hiring “diverse bodies” really just amounts to window dressing.