There’s an interesting paradox when it comes to diversity in the technology world. Research consistently shows that diverse teams are more innovative and better at problem solving. On the other hand, most tech founders don’t believe that these advantages lead to better financial performance. And while some studies show correlations between various kinds of diversity with business results, overall research findings are mixed.
One reason for this: diversity has costs as well as benefits. Most obviously, in a world where there are relatively few women, black, Latinx, engineers, it can take a lot longer (and potentially be more expensive) to recruit a diverse team. Even once the team is in place, most of us don’t have a lot of experience working in diverse teams and inclusive environments. This means that our habits, tools, and processes are optimized for the relatively-homogeneous world we’re used to. New approaches feel a lot less efficient and comfortable, especially as we’re first learning them. As a result, diverse teams often face challenges with cohesion, goal alignment, conflict, and communications. In many cases, the costs of diversity are higher up-front – and the benefits take longer to pay off.
Even so, most tech companies think it’s worth investing in diversity. And the good news is that organizations like Black Girls Code, Code 2040, TransH4CK, Ada Developer Academy, /dev/color, Women Who Tech, and so many others are making progress on diversifying the talent pool and providing support structures. There’s also been a lot of great work developing best practices; see for example Project Include’s excellent recommendations, including culture, hiring and reviews, training, and conflict resolution. Over time, costs will continue to decrease as “the pipeline” expands, best practices are refined, and more and more people get experience working in and creating inclusive environments.
In short, the momentum is steadily building. In fact, I’d argue that while there’s still a lot of work to be done, there’s already enough knowledge of what it takes to make diverse teams successful and a critical mass of diverse people who are good at – and enjoy – working in diverse teams, that a lot of new possibilities have opened up. Which means that it’s a great time to start looking at the other half of the equation, and start focusing on the upside.
Where are the situations where diverse teams have the biggest advantages?
- diverse teams are better at working together to solve hard problems – so they’ve got a natural advantage at building software” that lets people and artificial intelligences work together to solve hard problems
- products are more likely to be successful when teams have a good understanding of their users’ needs – so diverse teams have an advantage building products for people who care about diversity
- teams generally build software that works best for people like themselves – so diverse teams have an advantage building software for diverse teams and communities
Looking at it through this lens, a lot of big opportunities jump out. I’m looking forward to exploring them in more detail, here on this site and working with the companies and open-source projects that want to take the lead here.
So yes indeed, a change is coming – and a good thing too 🙂