Leadership

Google’s Diversity Disclosure: What Happens Next?

By / Jun 2, 2014 (photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In a short blog post last week, the world’s leading search engine company opened up about a serious problem it’s facing—a lack of staff diversity. One expert has some advice for Google and any other organization that struggles with D&I.

A lot can be said about Google’s decision to release data about the makeup of its workforce last week.

Statistically speaking, the numbers do not look good for Google: 30 percent of its employees are female, while only 2 percent are African American and 3 percent are Hispanic. But the fact that the tech giant opened up about its struggles with diversity and inclusion is a huge step in the right direction, according to one D&I professional.

“If one to two years are spent building the capacity of an organization to adjust to change, the actual transformation will be organic and meaningful.”

“Google got it right,” said Leah Smiley, president of the Society for Diversity. “They were forthcoming about the problem in an effort to seek multiple solutions. It presents an opportunity for them to achieve diversity of thought or different perspectives about this issue of underrepresentation of diverse groups.”

In a blog post, Google Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock wrote that the company realized it was wrong to not be transparent about the issue.

“Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity, and it’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly and with the facts,” he wrote.

But what can Google—or any other organization that struggles with diversity—do to become more inclusive? Smiley offered three tips.

Take your time. Don’t rush to apply a quick fix by, for example, hiring a chief diversity officer. Instead, focus on changing the organizational culture by “conducting a diversity climate analysis, educating supervisors and managers, empowering women with leadership skills, engaging in succession planning, reviewing policies and work-life programs, and forming employee resource groups,” Smiley said. “Notice I did not include recruiting. If one to two years are spent building the capacity of an organization to adjust to change, the actual transformation will be organic and meaningful.”

Make current staff part of the solution. “While diversity, in and of itself, requires a certain level of disruption, it does not preclude utilizing existing employees in the process,” she said. “Build trust so that diversity interventions are not viewed as threatening.” At Google, 61 percent of its staff are white and another 30 percent are Asian. “There is no benefit to excluding 91 percent of your workforce from diversity and cultural competence efforts,” Smiley said.

Build a pipeline of diverse talent. And if the pipeline is weak, the organization should work to strengthen it. “Recognizing that the pipeline is weak is no excuse for a lack of representation,” Smiley said. “Groups can solve that problem by connecting with high-potential diverse youth and their families early on; investing time and resources in socially responsible efforts, such as mentoring at middle and high schools or leveraging support for STEM curriculum that illustrates the wide range of diversity in the tech sector; and identifying the unconscious biases that prevent a firm from fully committing to inclusion.”

While Smiley is encouraged by the diversity conversation that Google has started, she said she would like to see it expand beyond race and gender.

“What are the older workers doing? How is religious diversity handled? How many languages or ethnicities are represented? How do organizations address the cultural nuances of doing business globally? How does all of this pertain to serving customers or members better?” she said. “This type of information will take the focus off of the hot-button issues of race and gender. Limiting diversity mainly to these is not only controversial, but it is divisive.”

In Google’s post, Bock outlined a number of steps the company has taken to address its diversity problem. Since 2010, Google has donated more than $40 million to organizations that work to bring computer science education to women and girls, and it has partnered with several historically black colleges and universities to improve the coursework of, and increase enrollment in, computer science classes.

“All of our efforts, including going public with these numbers, are designed to help us recruit and develop the world’s most talented and diverse people,” Bock wrote.

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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