DE&I – the role of technology in building a more equal workplace

How can we advance the workplace at scale - and fast?
17 May 2023

DE&I (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) is what we call policies and practices designed to break down a workforce that’s too similar across the board – and in western tech and business cultures, usually, that means too white, too male, too cisdominant, too heterodominant, too non-disabled, and too neurotypical.

But making workplaces, teams, and career ladders more inclusive, so that anyone with the necessary skills, creativity and ingenuity can progress, irrespective of their points of differentiation from a cishet white male societal “norm,” doesn’t in any sense just happen.

It requires radical action, and constant attention. In talking to women in tech, we’ve already seen that getting equal representation even between the sexes is hard going – just around 26% of the tech workforce are women. And that’s before we even begin to intersect color, sexuality or anything else.

Seeing the urgency of the need for more DE&I work in the sector then, it’s disappointing to note that in the recent sweeping swathes of layoffs in the tech world, DE&I teams in many companies have felt a disproportionate amount of ax-blade, with teams disappearing or being winnowed as businesses focus on the things they think they need in order to stay alive.

The prescription for change.

In Part 1 of this article, we spoke to Dave Wilkin of 10KC, a talent experience program for inclusive mentoring, employee connectivity, and skills development, about the hit that DE&I teams had taken post-Covid.

Dave explained that the reality of the situation was that DE&I teams had failed to sufficiently work their way into the business-critical fabric of many businesses – so naturally, when faced with socioeconomic pressures that made business-critical systems the only elements to be absolutely safe from the ax, companies hadn’t prioritized their DE&I teams, despite the copious evidence that more diverse teams and more diverse companies make more money.

Dave also offered a radical prescription for how we can undo some of the damage of this failure to bind DE&I teams into business-criticality – though arguably, it’s a prescription that many businesses won’t want to adopt in the current climate.

One of the points in the prescription was the fundamental uptake in diverse mentees by all managers in an organization, so as to diversify the talent pools and the chains of promotion in that organization.


To get diverse networks of mentees, you’d need to address the issue from the managerial hiring process on, wouldn’t you? It would need to be part of the agreed job role to take on diverse mentees, to underline the company’s commitment to the process and make sure it actually got done?


Yeah. We’re seeing organizations like Nike connect their managers’ and leaders’ performance management, aka their bonus, to DE&I activities. Starbucks has done the same very publicly, and until organizations connect things like whether leaders and managers are attracting and keeping the most diverse teams to performance management and their compensation, and how they get evaluated, it’s not going to happen – because what gets measured gets done right.

That’s where DE&I teams need to look at how we create scalable mentoring and networking in sponsorship programs, so that every manager and leader can say whether they’ve mentored and sponsored this talent, because right now, it’s made up, unless you have a verifiable system in place.

Companies can say “Hey, THQ, how many people diverse people did you mentor?” and the response is “Oh, well, I guess these four people… maybe?” Whereas if you ask “Did you do your compliance course?” we know whether you’ve done that or not, and we don’t think it’s strange that we absolutely know things related to compliance, but we’re vague about how many diverse people we mentored. We need do have the same level of accountability and countability around these activities that we have with compliance issues.

The power of processes.


That’s the corporate mind-shift that’s necessary? Adding rigorousness and process and procedure to DE&I and applying it company-wide?


Yeah. I think it’s the shift we need. If you reverse it, no company would say “So hey, you go find some compliance courses you want to do.” It’s more like “We prescribe these compliance courses. Don’t move, don’t breathe, don’t touch anything until you’ve completed these specific courses.” It needs to be the same for DE&I – companies have to prescribe the activities that are needed, and make them measurable and accountable, just like compliance. Because to think that Manager Jones necessarily knows how to mentor, who to mentor, and what mentoring that person in a productive way looks like? That’s an unfair expectation of most people.

That’s why technology allows DE&I teams to systematically prescribe and enable leaders and managers to be good mentors and sponsors.


How does technology play into it? How does it make that mentoring process easier for those leaders and managers?


The first thing it can do is remove the bias from matching mentors and mentees. So for instance, we run a machine learning algorithm that uses things like skills, career path, location, time zone, interests, hobbies and more, to allow leaders and managers to get with a 98% quality match to people that they can help, versus just expecting leaders to just know that right.


Dating tech, but with a pro-DE&I business focus?



The second thing it can do is provide curriculums and guides. So if you’re being matched for a sponsorship program, that’s different than if you’re being sponsored to a reverse mentoring program. And how do you give people the conversation guides, the sequences, the questions, the icebreakers to make that happen? Technology can help with that.

And thirdly, when the technology comes in, everything becomes measurable. And as we said, whenever something’s measurable, it becomes practicable, and it gets done. Measurability also allows teams to know where there might be retention risks, and also where there are really great leaders.

The next phase.


In Part 1, we said there have been lots of reports that say more diverse teams=more profitability, and they’re also the better way for the world to be going.


Yeah, correct.


But we’ve spoken to a fair few women in tech recently, and they say there seems to be a gap between that sort of theoretical knowledge that this is what needs to happen and the sort of generalized appreciation in companies of the issues that underrepresented people face in trying to advance their careers.

Does that sound familiar?


Yeah. Organizations, for the most part, understand and have educated their teams about the fact that diversity creates higher performing companies and teams. And I think if you were to talk to leaders and managers, they’d go, “Yep, that’s correct.” And they probably believe it.

I think what’s missing is the next step. The step in the thinking that goes “Specifically, what can I do to impact that?”

Scaling at speed.

And D&EI teams have not necessarily been challenged on how to create experiences that can scale, so you have every manager and leader hit their goal. When you look at mentoring programs, a lot of them reach a couple of dozen people, and are a huge amount of work. Whereas when they use technology, they can now reach thousands of people, and they can measure whether managers and leaders are delivering on their outcomes, and whether they’re enjoying them, and whether they’re reaching their own goals and the company’s goals.

Like the compliance example, if we would never expect everybody to just figure out their own compliance training, why would we expect everyone to figure out their D&EI activities to actually accelerate diverse talent?


And obviously, if people try to figure these things out for themselves, it’s unlikely that they’ll ever be challenged by anything, it’s unlikely that they’ll leave any kind of comfort zone, because they’ll figure out what they can do within the boundaries of that comfort zone, rather than what’s actually necessary.


Yeah, I think that’s the big gap. How do we embed this into how leaders lead and how managers manage, irrespective of their comfort zones? If we’re not giving people tried and tested ways to do this experience and guide them through it, they’re probably not going to have the competency to deliver mentoring experiences with impact. It’s not among the core competencies of their job role yet.

That is where technology can come in.