Diversity in IT is not optional any more

Over the last few years diversity has gone from being a campaign to an understanding to a necessity in many industries. We still have a long way to go.

In my working life I have worked with a lot of middle aged straight white men. A lot. While I have nothing against white men born in the 1970s (it would be a bit odd if I did), the IT industry as a whole would benefit from a bit more variety in recruitment, and of course others would benefit as well.

The problem seems to be more acute in Operations than other areas. I see more ethnic and gender diversity in development and data teams, although I acknowledge this is entirely subjective.

Without wishing to indulge in exceptionalism (for more on this, read this excellent book: Stamped from the Beginning), I can think of many cases where the best ideas, the most innovative solutions, the most passionate commitment to excellence have come from people not drawn from the group mentioned above. The best Oracle DBAs I have worked with all seem to be women, for one thing. I don’t know why that is, and again it’s all subjective.

When I have built teams in the past I have actively sought to include as wide a view as possible. I don’t do this because I think it’s good to tick boxes on gender, ethnicity, disability and LGBT inclusion. I do it because it’s better for the team and the business. Incorporating perspectives that I cannot hold myself and then including those in decision making makes the team stronger. If I worked only with white Anglo-Saxon men of a certain age we might well agree on much, but we will also have similar blind-spots. We may enjoy driving together, but we will perhaps all happily drive over the same cliff edge together.

Incorporating diversity in a team is not something you should do to please your HR director. It’s not a paternal thing where you can ‘help’ others but make yourself feel better. It’s not even something you should do because civilisation in 2019 demands it, although it absolutely does. But to be honest, if those are your reasons for promoting diversity in your teams, it’s still better than nothing.

You should build diversity into your teams because it’s good for you, its’ good for your teams, it’s good for your people and it’s good for your customers. Why would you assume that everyone with the skills you need happens to be drawn from the same background as you? Why would you want to deliberately turn down the opportunity to learn from others? Broad horizons in recruitment, management, retention and development are not a luxury or a commercial advantage any more - they are a necessity.

Reading

I don’t get to set homework, but I do think you should consider reading these…

Doing Business in India

The Culture Map

Lean In*

The Inclusion Revolution is Now

* There is a critique of Lean In suggesting that Sandberg is overly focused on the idea that women in work should emulate male success; I see where that comes from but I still think it's worth a read, especially by men who haven't even considered the issues.

Nick Ellis