“I’m not going to give you the solution to diversity and inclusion in tech.”
“I don’t have any D&I data for you.”
“I’m going to ask you to leave your ‘representative’ behind today.”
These are not the disclaimers you might expect from eBay’s first Chief Diversity Officer, who held roles at Google as its Diversity Strategist and at Uber as its first Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion. But Damien Hooper-Campbell isn’t your traditional leader when it comes to his approach to diversity and inclusion. Each step in his life and career — from front-of-the-house manager at an organic Chinese food restaurant in Harlem to Assistant Director of Admissions at Harvard Business School to Vice President at Goldman Sachs — has shaped how he views diversity and inclusion, whether it’s through hospitality, education or its manifestation in some of the most influential industries.
Drawing from his First Round CEO Summit talk (which received a standing ovation) and follow-up conversations, Hooper-Campbell shares how he believes we can humanize an increasingly popular discussion that’s otherwise at risk of becoming a rote phrase in tech: diversity and inclusion (D&I). He shares a snapshot of the state of affairs of D&I in technology and suggests how it can be approached differently to generate more authentic, effective and — wait for it — inclusive conversations. Lastly, he offers a few exercises and tactical takeaways that every leader can try at her organization.
(Literally) Searching for Diversity in Tech
Let’s start by getting a quick, unscientific pulse of how D&I is being covered before jumping into what should be discussed. If you’ve ever Googled “diversity in tech,” you’ll get a smattering of headlines, such as these:
Imagine how entangled this issue can be if there’s this level of contradiction and questioning in the headlines. “It took just minutes of searching to come up with these titles and more. What’s happened with this conversation? It’s supposed to be about people and something good. In many ways it’s become a bastardized, sticky conversation to have,” says Hooper-Campbell. “Add in the backdrop of the United States and the racially polarizing acts that we’re seeing happening across all of our cities. Add in the backdrop of what’s happening in the UK with Brexit. Add in the backdrop of what’s happening in Germany with refugees. This has not become the most fun discussion to have. It’s not for lack of trying to start the conversation.”
The Current State of Affairs
The intensity and complexity of the issues involved in conversations around diversity and inclusion has sent the tech sector in a number of different directions in search of meaningful change. Hooper-Campbell has noted some common patterns:
D&I leadership roles. “We hire a Chief Diversity Officer.”
- Progress via percentages. “We double down on recruiting because there is a narrow and almost singular definition of progress as having a higher percentage of women, of Blacks and Latinos than you had last year.”
- Formal trainings. “Many of us do D&I programs. Usually it’s in the form of trainings. For example, unconscious bias has become the buzzword of the last few years. Training after training takes place. People who are underrepresented minorities feel forced to speak up and represent more than their individual feelings, and people who might not self-identify as underrepresented minorities are sometimes scared to speak at all in fear of saying the wrong thing.”
Take A Different Step First
It’s not that Hooper-Campbell believes that investments of money, resources and time is ineffectual — it’s just usually that they’re often applied in a silo without considering the human element that is at the foundation of this conversation. “It will seem cliché to some or too simple to others, but the first — and most often skipped — step is to humanize this issue. This is not just about metrics and percentages. Yes, ultimately, those are absolutely necessary for progress. But what I’m going to ask us to do is to put the trainings aside for today. Toss out the money for a second, too,” says Hooper-Campbell. “For those of you who have been afraid to talk about it with your teams, go through the following steps so you can encourage them to join you, too. This is especially important for leaders of early-stage startups because you have the best opportunity to make a change here. I’m going to push you to have a conversation, so you can push them to have a conversation. It’s not rocket science. Let’s kick this off.”
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