As the media focuses on the tech industry’s employee diversity stats, the picture that is painted is grim. Facebook’s Maxine Williams’ comments that the company’s diversity hiring efforts are “producing some positive but modest change” were pointed to as summing up the industry-wide situation that wasn’t seeing rapid enough change.
However, the stats that are used to incite depression refer to the total company population change. Pinterest states that the changes it has seen have been nothing much to brag about: ‘We've made some modest progress over the past year, with our number of female employees growing from 40% to 42%, engineering interns increasing from 32% to 36% female, and women engineers hired out of school increasing from 28% to 33%.” When Fortune declared that ‘...progress was hard to see,” they compared 2014 employee data to 2013, and found that Facebook, Microsoft and H-P all increased their percentage of women by less than 1%.
But these are huge companies, with employee bases of tens and even hundreds of thousands of people. To achieve the ‘significant results’ that the media is thirsting for would require some truly insane recruiting practices. Let’s explore a hypothetical example.
In 2013, HP had about 317,500 employees.* Let’s say that HP hires about 10% of its workforce each year, which means that in 2014, they would have hired 31,750 people.
In 2013, HP’s workforce was 32.5% female.* Assuming that Fortune would be satisfied with a 5% increase in female representation, what does that mean for recruiting?
It means that of the 31,750 new hires that HP brought on board in 2014, 88% of them would have needed to be female.
This example drives home the notion that companies should be focused on building and maintaining equitably diverse hiring practices, rather than focusing on increasing the ratio of the current workforce as targets. Blindly over-correcting to solve a problem that has been slowly building up over years is not a sustainable response. Companies need to be aware that mandating diversity for diversity’s sake does not change the underlying culture that led to such skewed ratios to begin with. Diversity must be cultivated slowly and celebrated in order to thrive. Installing hiring practices that ensure a balanced ratio of new hires will lead to fundamental change, and that is not modest in the least.