Project Include Fights Discrimination with Data

Over the past twenty-four months, the Silicon Valley has been coming face-to-face with its diversity problem and so far, the news has mostly been bad. First, there were reports of the staggeringly low number of visible minority workers and women employed at Google, Apple and other major technology companies across the nation.  Then, Ellen Pao launched a high-profile gender discrimination case against an established Silicon Valley venture capital firm. In December 2015, Elephant in the Valley–a report on gender discrimination in the Silicon Valley inspired in part by Pao’s struggles–was released. This week Pao and a power team of visible minority women–all investors, executives and engineers in the predominately male and white technology world–launched a new project in response to the industry’s inequality crisis. But will their plan work?


Project Include’s Mission

Project Include’s mission is simple.  As stated on their website:

We are focusing our efforts on CEOs and management of early to mid-stage tech startups, where we believe change is possible and can have a broad impact even beyond the industry. We want to provide our perspectives, recommendations, materials, and tools to help CEOs and their teams build meaningful inclusion. We know how hard change is from our own experiences. The conversation alone is uncomfortable, and making the tradeoffs to implement meaningful change is even more challenging. We want to help.

While Project Include is proposing many strategies to help companies bring about both qualitative and quantitative change, one of the primary tools in their arsenal is metrics. As they explain, “Diversity and inclusion initiatives must include comprehensive metrics for success for accountability. If companies fail to measure their demographics, broken down by function, level, and short- and long-term trends, they won’t be able to assess the success, or failure, of initiatives and leaders.”

Project Include, however, recognizes that data is only as useful as its quality. To this end, they also offer specific recommendations for collecting data on diversity, including the following:

  • Consider using existing metrics definitions and surveys: In other words, start by building on existing data sets
  • Be transparent with metrics and survey results: Project Include encourages all companies with more than 50 employees publish diversity reports at least yearly; high-growth companies are encouraged to publish diversity reports at least twice yearly
  • Metrics should be consistent across the industry: To promote diversity, Project Include offers detailed guidelines on what metrics companies should be prioritizing and encourages all companies to collect the same metrics to better facilitate industry comparisons.
  • Use inclusive demographic breakdowns: Unlike many existing surveys, Project Include is pushing for greater specificity in how identity-based data is captured; they are also pushing for data to be collected in relation to specific conditions (e.g., family status and immigration status).
  • Set employee, leadership, board, and investor demographic diversity goals: Without goals, metrics can simply confirm that the status quo is being maintained. Project Include emphasizes, “Within companies, we recommend setting demographic targets not only across the employee base, but also for leadership, the board, and investors.”
  • Re-use existing surveys, or design new surveys with great care: Since great survey design is challenging, they encourage companies to use existing tools, if they have already been tested and clearly are capturing the data needed to provide insights into the diversity deficit
  • Repeat surveys regularly, at the right intervals: Finally, while cautioning against survey fatigue, Project Include reminds companies that surveys should be carried out on a regular basis to ensure that diversity targets are being met or that at the very least, the company is moving towards their targets.

Is Project Include’s Mission Workable?

Given the depth of diversity problems plaguing many Silicon Valley companies and tech companies across the United States, there is good reason to be skeptical. After all, while one may be able to change the numbers, cultural shifts–turning a sexist or racist workplace into a welcoming place for women and visible minorities–is arguably going to take a much longer time.  During Ellen Pao’s trial last March, for example, it became glaringly apparent that one of the problems she faced at KPCB was that some qualities that senior partners considered positive in male employees–for example, aggressiveness–were considered negative when exhibited by a female employee.  As a result, beyond hiring more women and visible minorities, the conditions need to be in place to ensure that these employees have equal access to promotions.

When it comes to tackling the diversity problem in the tech sector, metrics are no doubt going to be part of the solution. Education and training, however, also need to play a major role.

While numbers can help companies identify and understand the problem and track progress toward change, only education and training can help create the conditions under which change can be sustained.

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May 5, 2016   Updated :May 18, 2016      

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