Inclusive Leadership: Why Tech Companies Struggle

Aug. 10, 2017

woman and man shaking hands

Google, Uber and Twitter are just some of the tech giants that have been in the news for their poor diversity track record and lack of inclusive leadership.

We hear it all the time, tech companies tend to be places where nerdy white and Asian male engineers come together to pursue a dream and that dream is made of cozy work relationships with people who really understand one another. While that may be true, do we ask ourselves why this paradigm is hard to change?

How We Got Here

Some stats might help us make better sense of how and why we got to where we are.

84% of working professionals currently in science and engineering jobs in the U.S are either white or Asian males, according to the National Science Foundation.

And things are not looking great for diversity.

17.9% are the women who received a degree in computer sciences in 2013, according to the National Science Foundation

Yet, the need for more STEM workers is growing:

8,650,000 by 2018 is estimated size of the STEM workforce needed, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics

This goes some way to explain why we have so many male executives, but it does not explain why tech companies struggle to be inclusive. The case for diversity is in plain sight, there’s plenty of research suggesting that diverse organizations perform better than those that are not.

Tech's Groupthink Attitude

Principles of neuroscience and organizational leadership can help us understand why.

We like groupthink and find it efficient. We all know what happens when you bring a group of likeminded individuals together. They create a culture built on similar values and select people who are like them as it speeds co-operation. It is a natural human instinct and one that cannot be easily dismissed.

Our Unconscious Brain directs us more than we think - the social signals we send to others will generate feelings of inclusion or exclusion. In “like groups” we tend to send signals that discourage those who are different from us to join in, even when we are looking for a different viewpoint.

The end result is not just negative press, but rather the impact this has on the organization’s long-term survival.  Some tech companies excel because of groupthink and unconscious bias. Yet they also eventually run out of steam because they do not have diverse viewpoints that allows them to adapt to change. Nokia and Kodak are examples of organizations where groupthink and limited inclusion led to failure.

How Inclusive Leadership Can Be Implemented

The recipe for success is more than just upping your diversity recruitment efforts and hope for the best. Some tech companies are recognizing this issue and trying to address it. We are currently working with Microsoft at designing a leadership development program aimed at addressing inclusion and inclusive leadership by uncovering natural bias and how that can hinder us while shifting the emphasis on high performance. In the end, success will be measured by the impact we create for our company and our communities rather than how cozy our work relationships are.

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