Black Woman of the C-Suite: Tech Entrepreneur speak on Diversity and Inclusion in Tech- Part II

Last week we looked at part one of this series where we looked at the story of Stacy Kirk and her journey in entrepreneurship. This week, we continue where we left off and in this article, we will look at why it is important to have diverse leadership and how cultures shape diversity and inclusion, and how to build more diverse teams. 

Why is it important to have a diverse executive team? 

Inviting people from different backgrounds into your workforce is one of the best ways to help your company steer through a crisis smoothly. And in order to promote diversity in the workplace, there needs to be a diverse executive team. We wanted to get Stacy’s views about diverse leadership and this is what she had to say; 

Your team has to be as diverse as the market you are going after. It is important to be able to see that over the next 10-20 years, this country will only continue to be more diverse. Diversity is part of the quality of the product and its value. You can’t have a quality product without diverse points of view. Diversity enables the company to respond to the market more effectively. It is not possible for one person to see the perspectives of every person. The more diverse your executive board is, the more equipped you are with the unknowns of the future. Companies that want to be competitive and able to address the needs of the diversity of this country and this globalized world need to be able to have voices at the executive level to help with strategic planning.

Some studies correspond with what Stacy says, including two studies, one from Gallup and the other one from McKinsey & Company. These studies conclude that businesses that have embraced diversity and inclusion will perform better than average. Having a diverse leadership team means that your company is exposed to a larger pool of experience and different perspectives to draw from, this helps in coming up with unique solutions to the problems that the business may be facing. 

It also shows that when an employee sees a person ‘like them’ in a powerful position, that inspires them to stay longer and strive for promotions thus increasing staff retention. In addition to that, by having diversity and inclusion in the topmost levels of governance, you will find it easier to attract greater talents because most high-performing people will be more eager to work with you. 

But how do diversity and inclusion in leadership teams affect a company’s culture?

“We live in a society where we are able to see a lot more than we did 30 years ago via Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Ted Talks. The visibility of people of color in the public sphere doing great things means that there are more visible possibilities for young people of color entering their careers. Visibility provides inspiration and inspiration is motivation.” Stacy says. 

Stacy continues to say that when employees see that there are people at the executive levels that look like them, they tend to be more motivated. “When you know there are people at an executive level that can help pull you through the ranks and give you feedback and guidance so that you can grow, that’s motivation. There is motivation in mentorship and sponsorship. There is motivation in opportunity.” 

The Roadblock to Equality

There are some scenarios that make it harder to achieve true diversity in the workplace. Stacy calls this the roadblock to equality. Imagine a scenario where a female employee is seeing consistently an all-male leadership team, or even being in a team where all the managers are Caucasian and you are a part of a minority ethnicity. If you do not have a person you are looking up to in the leadership team, most likely you will be demotivated to continue working. These are some of the roadblocks to equality when trying to achieve diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

“There is discomfort when we experience something unfamiliar. A lot of people are afraid – not necessarily just afraid of you as a woman or a person of color – but afraid of what’s going to happen in their world if there is this shift, this new factor they are unfamiliar with. They are so caught up in the fear of unfamiliar representation and diversity that they don’t realize there is actually nothing to be afraid of. As we expand diversity, what seemed so foreign will then seem normal. What used to scare people will no longer scare them because they see it every day.”

She continues to say, “For example, a metaphor: my son struggles with algebra. We’ve both grown to become scared of it due to its mystic adversity. My way around this fear is practicing algebra a little bit every day. If you do it every day, it becomes familiar and then you are no longer fearful of it. Once you get out of that fear zone and you’re not afraid, that’s when you can start elaboration. That’s when you can learn, experience, and expand.” 

She concludes on this issue by adding, “Practice makes perfect. The more we’re able to include a more diverse group, especially in executive leadership, the more we can open up the doors for people to get the opportunities they deserve.”

How Do We Solve For Lack of Diversity and Inclusion in Leadership Teams? 

We asked Stacy to recommend three things that the community, the society, and the industry could do to help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership. Here are her recommendations; 

  1. Community: we have to continue to keep our voice out there for equity and inclusion. Before this summer of protests, it was hard to get people of different races together to agree there is disparity and injustice. My ask for the community is that we keep that fire going. Progress is not enough until we have a fair and balanced society.  
  2. The tech industry: People say, “We just don’t have POC in our organization that is ready to be promoted.” That’s BS! If they are given support and mentorship, they can absolutely become industry leaders. 
  3. It has to be a priority that executives will identify POC to get to the next level. They need to clearly and transparently define the criteria of what it takes to be an executive. Hold everyone to that standard. When you omit the convoluted mess of bias and create a clear-cut path for POC to move up the ranks, diversity will naturally follow. 

These actions should be a top priority for every company. After all, businesses with more diversity in leadership perform better.