Tech companies like to boast that they foster an "inclusive workplace." Yet how many industry leaders actually understand what an inclusive workplace is, much less know how to successfully create and sustain one?
Coco Brown, founder and CEO of The Athena Alliance, an organization dedicated to advancing boardroom diversity, believes that an inclusive workplace is an environment in which everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive. She notes that career advancement, pay, benefits and impact should all be addressed on equal terms and with equal access.
An inclusive workplace, Brown feels, is also one in which everyone believes -- backed by evidence -- that their ideas, work, perspectives and who they are will be accepted on equal terms to those applied to everyone else around them. Brown will lead the conference session "Cultivating the Inclusive Workplace" at Interop ITX on May 17.
A diversity deficit
Brown feels that the tech industry has a serious diversity deficit. "One doesn’t feel included if they’re the only woman in the room, or the only African American man in the room, the only Latino in the room," she says. "If you have that experience, the majority portion has to work much harder to enable your inclusiveness."
According to Brown, some of the biggest barriers to inclusivity can be connected to a lack of empathy. "The majority hasn’t really thought of the problem from the other side," she explains. "If you’ve got a majority of men in a room, they don’t necessarily think of what it’s like to be the woman in the room."
It’s incumbent upon the majority, Brown says, to understand what it’s like to be the other person. "How they interpret messages, how they respond to environments and really to do the work to try to include them more," she says. "Try understand their world, and bring yourself into their world."
Reaching Critical Mass
Brown feels that tech industry won't achieve meaningful diversity until minority participation in the workforce reaches a critical mass state. "It’s hard to stick it out when you are the only person," she says. "Once there are three of you, your chance of sticking it out is much greater." Even companies that are trying hard to create a more inclusive environment are unlikely to reach their goals until the number of minorities within their ranks passes a tipping point. "Until they get a critical mass that can self sustain and create a support structure for itself, it’s going to be really hard to hold onto those individuals, Brown says. "They will go somewhere where they see more individuals like themselves."
Reaching critical mass isn't always easy, Brown acknowledges. "It sometimes difficult to do because diversity levels aren’t very strong," she says. "So it’s somewhat challenging for companies to create the first set of individuals that create a lockhold for them, that helps enable diversity."