Think it would help advance the cause if a company attached its executives’ bonuses to diversity goals? Microsoft does. The company plans to do just that to combat a second straight year of decreasing workforce numbers for women as well as disappointingly slight gains for minorities.
The company attributes some of its gender losses to its exit from the phone handset market. According to a Bloomberg article, as of Sept. 30, Microsoft divested its Nokia handset factories, which employed a large number of women. “The modest gains for people of color,” – 0.2 to 3.7 percent of Microsoft’s total workforce and 0.1 percent to 5.5 percent of employees for African American/Black and Hispanic/Latino employees respectively – “those are so slight I really want to see them improve,” said Gwen Houston, the company’s chief diversity and inclusion officer.
There was one ray of light. While total workforce numbers lag, Houston said numbers for female and racial minority new hires have increased. Women were 27.7 percent of new hires this year, nearly 22 percent of which were hired for technical jobs. According to the article, “of the new employees, 6.6 percent were African American/Black and 7 percent were Hispanic/Latino.”
The piece went on to discuss CEO Satya Nadella’s intention to make diversity a key priority for the company, part of that prioritization is a plan to make diversity goals a factor in whether or not senior executives get all of their annual bonuses.
“Diversity and inclusion is something you’ve got to ingrain, you’ve got to keep talking about the business value, you’ve got to keep talking about the impact,” Houston said. “That’s what Satya has been doing. We, of course, have more to do.”
I don’t know. I can’t say any of it sounds terribly impressive right now. It sounds corporate. It’s too thin; gossamer might be a better word. Like, let’s put this out there, spin it how we want it, and make a good show. But there’s hope. Once the aforementioned plan is revealed, we’ll be able to see if there’s any teeth behind the tech giant’s stated intentions.
It’s certainly promising that Microsoft has added HR staff with diversity experience and tripled funding for its Explorer internship program for college freshman and sophomores interested in technology – though that last program doesn’t indicate a targeted diversity focus. Microsoft is also doing focus groups with underrepresented groups in several U.S. cities to hopefully uncover ways they can motivate these groups to choose careers in tech. According to the article, “the results will be used to improve advertising and recruiting campaigns.”
I’ve always thought that attaching a dollar sign to something is a great way to get people to take it more seriously. Especially if you’re asking adults to change their behavior and adopt tactics or strategies that are unfamiliar. Companies like Sodexo have been tying executive compensation to diversity goals for some time, to their betterment. But change isn’t easy. It’s good, but if Microsoft actually implements such a policy, it’s definitely going to be a journey of discovery.
It’s like Houston said, diversity has to be ingrained. It’s something leaders have to keep talking about until it becomes familiar, desirable, worth the effort. The technology industry already has significant, acknowledged diversity issues. It won’t be easy to change such a powerful, longstanding culture, to inculcate something as potentially divisive and uncomfortable as diversity.
On the one hand, some people may not see the need for change. They’ll likely rebel out of hand, complaining that this is just one more thing for them to do. On the other hand, tying diversity goals to compensation simplifies things considerably. Executives, you want that bonus at the end of the year? Okay. Then you better understand what CDOs are doing and why it’s beneficial for the business. You better understand diversity’s impact on current and future talent pools, and its ability to connect you intimately with existing and new customers and markets. And then you better do your part to create a diverse and inclusive workplace, and – we can’t forget this one – you better be able to prove that you made a difference. Otherwise, no cash.
Simple, right? I’m laughing right now; you just can’t see me. We’ll see what happens. I have my metaphoric fingers crossed that Microsoft makes a go of its rather nebulous plan and sets an example for the rest of Silicon Valley.