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Leadership Day of Pink: Are your company’s goals for inclusiveness in sync with reality?

Andrew Caprara is senior vice-president, strategy and business development at Softchoice, a Toronto-based technology company. Briar Tedesco and Kevin Smart are co-chairs of orangePRIDE, Softchoice’s LGBTQ2+ employee resource group.

Do you wonder what the world would be like if there were more people like you in it?

It’s natural. After all, you have used your skill set to get you where you are today, so you know it’s effective. You probably also know that there are benefits to diversity of thought, but perhaps find that too often, you attract and gravitate toward people similar to yourself.

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This is especially timely on International Day of Pink, which this year falls on April 10, when organizations show solidarity with the LGBTQ2+ community and deliver messages about diversity and inclusion. This is often linked to a bigger value proposition: Our customers expect diversity. Diverse companies are more profitable. It’s just the right thing to do.

While these things are true, for most organizations, the ambition is out of sync with reality. This is especially true in the technology industry, where the stakes are arguably the highest: Technology will shape more and more of how we live and work. Perhaps the question is: Who’s designing it?

Unprecedented power

Whether it is misinformation online or our addiction to screens, society has awoken to the outsized influence of technology in our lives; we have also raised our expectations around the industry’s obligations to society. The industry has responded, and organizations such as Microsoft are speaking powerfully about the need for technology to be in sync with the people it is serving.

If we continue automating and excluding the human without protecting ourselves from uniformity and groupthink, the consequences will be broad and far-reaching. Consider if the biases of the few were to be built into the AI systems that affect us all. We may actually roll back progress that has already been made on diversity and inclusion.

We should not fear these advancements, as they will potentially enable us perform more rewarding work and live better lives. But we can’t do it blindly. That’s why it is so important that the technology industry gets it right on diversity, and like the rest of Corporate Canada, we also need to think bigger than board ratios and diverse candidate slates.

Let’s think about what we’ve done for people who process information or interact with the world differently than we do. Or when we prefer candidates with certain credentials, have we considered that we’re excluding people whose experiences may have prevented them from being part of the club? Are we promoting people who look different but act the same as we do?

Leaders must obviously consider these issues from an enterprise-wide perspective but they also need to take individual ownership. Not only will this enable them to better serve their customers and communities, but it can also give technology companies an advantage when it comes to recruitment, where competition for talent is hypercompetitive.

Leaders need to act

To create inclusive and diverse environments, a good place to start is with simply understanding others. Underrepresented groups rightfully observe there are few people in leadership they can identify with. For leaders, the first step is understanding what people are craving, and often, the undercurrent is that they don’t believe people understand what they have been through.

Leaders should also be open about their own vulnerabilities or past. For example, Rola Dagher, the president of Cisco Canada, has been remarkably candid with her personal story, opening the door for others who don’t perceive themselves as fitting the mould.

Developing talent

Invest in developing talent and understand the difference between sponsorship and mentorship – the latter being an actual, continual investment in people. This is especially important when it comes to developing people mid-career; if you wait to hire diverse senior leaders, it will be too late.

When it comes to your employee resource groups, take a pass on the photo ops. Instead, engage with them in an authentic and ad-hoc way, dropping by on meetings or seeking opportunities to listen, participate and take action.

Own the end result

Finally, make diversity and inclusion part of your objectives and tie it to your performance. This can mean de-prioritizing other objectives but it sends a very clear signal to your peers and teams that diversity is an important part of your organization’s future.

Owning the end result also means being forthright with your organization’s and your own shortcomings – something Pinterest did several years ago when they publicly shared their diversity statistics.

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We understand there are significant obstacles to overcome, related both to the representation of minority groups in technical and leadership positions, as well as the talent shortage more generally, and that change may not happen as quickly as it should. However, we are confident that if each organization and each leader makes it his or her own priority to build a more inclusive and diverse workplace, the technology industry will make the world a better, more efficient and more equal place.

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