Project Include is our group effort to accelerate diversity and inclusion solutions in the tech industry. True diversity means including all underrepresented groups across all aspects of a company and measuring outcomes so everyone has a fair opportunity to succeed  —  and ultimately building better teams, better companies and better results.

Change is hard, especially around a multidimensional issue like diversity. It is easy for all of us to become defensive and emotional, to shift the blame to others, and to feel fundamentally unheard or misunderstood. We have a real diversity problem in tech in the United States, and we need to change it.

Research shows how bias results in discrimination in educating, hiring, promoting, paying, and funding underrepresented people of color in tech;1 tech company data show the extreme lack of diversity of employees and management.2 Studies quantify the financial benefits of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity3, and the many ways diversity improves company performance.4 And despite all this information, we have yet to see significant improvement in diversity numbers.

It is so uncomfortable for us to talk about the diversity problem that we have not been able to fix it.

Though startups are making an effort to implement diversity improvement strategies, the reality is that most are taking limited, potentially harmful actions, including one-off training,5 blaming the pipeline, using language like “lowering the bar,” and describing the current state of the tech industry as a “meritocracy.” Unfortunately, we have seen tech culture become even more exclusive and less diverse over the last five years.6

It is hard to move away from processes and ways of doing things that tech startups have relied on for decades. We’re all human and prone to confirmation bias, and we tend to stick with what seemed to work. We’ve been trained to hire for culture fit, to look for school pedigrees, to build cultures to reinforce the way companies operate today, and to continue the patterns that have made tech a powerhouse industry.

Recently, we as a group have also become concerned about the impact of belt-tightening at tech companies. Budget cuts can shrink diversity initiatives, while layoffs and attrition can disproportionately affect women and underrepresented people of color,7 and achieving diversity is harder when companies aren’t hiring. We want the girls, people of color, and other underrepresented groups that we are encouraging to pursue STEM educations and future tech jobs to have real opportunities to succeed.

We convened as a group of tech women to strategize and try to move diversity forward by having hard conversations and redirecting efforts. In the future, we’d like to look back at this period as a turning point. Out of this groundswell of attention and activity, how do we ensure that initiatives succeed and have lasting positive and meaningful impact? Which will prevail against founder ambivalence, entropy, and media capriciousness? What will drive the greatest possible improvements over time? How do we inspire more ambitious efforts, more substantial programs, and more unity across efforts? What types of practical research about mitigating bias in every aspect of tech hiring and employment would help? How do we work together to cause meaningful transformation  —  in behavior, in expectations, in standards  —  across all areas of the tech industry?

We are focusing our efforts on CEOs and management of early to mid-stage tech startups,8 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. For those CEOs who care about these issues but are overwhelmed by the choices, we want to provide our perspectives, recommendations, materials, and tools to help CEOs and their teams build a concrete strategy, framework, and plan with specific actions.

We ask you as CEOs and managers to review your own company’s functional level of diversity by looking at diversity of founders, leaders, and managers; of people who control resources, budgets, and decisions; of individual teams such as engineering, marketing, and human resources; of the hiring pipeline. Would a star engineer making sexist jokes or comments get fired? Does lack of experience building and managing diverse teams keep someone from getting promoted? Do men and women take the full amount of parental leave allowed by company policy? Who is responsible for diversity at the company?

Long-term tests include: Does the percentage of underrepresented employees of color resemble the country’s labor market demographics?9 Does the employee base include people of all ages, parents, disabled people, veterans, LGBTQA people, transgender people, and immigrants? Does your company treat part-time employees, remote workers, and independent contractors fairly? Are underrepresented groups, including those in multiple groups who tend to be penalized twice,10 at parity in pay and in representation in leadership roles?

Ultimately, does your company give everyone a fair shot at success?

What does a real solution look like?

To answer these questions affirmatively, we urge companies to implement diversity and inclusion solutions that incorporate the following three values:

  • Inclusion: Companies should improve opportunities for all employees, including all underrepresented groups (gender, race, class, age, religion, disability, education, sexual orientation, and others). We explicitly discourage targeting subgroups for inclusion. Including everyone is actually easier in the long-term and intrinsically more equitable  —  especially for those in more than one underrepresented group, who suffer even greater consequences.
  • Comprehensiveness: Today’s solutions are limited; the one-off initiative approach simply cannot achieve systemic change and in many cases does harm. Diversity takes multiple, sustained efforts, a comprehensive approach, and a long-term commitment. An effective solution covers all aspects of a company  —  its culture, its operations, and its teams. The CEO has to drive management support and protect against fragmented HR policies, diversity leads who find more value externally than internally, and company politics that emerge from lack of leadership.
  • Accountability: Change will not happen unless companies and their executives hold themselves accountable. Companies should track results and we propose a set of metrics to track your efforts over time and compare success with others in the industry. This work will tell you how you’re doing, where you can improve, and who needs to improve.

Implementing these values for diversity and inclusion requires hard work across an entire company; reversing a culture is even more difficult, nuanced, and time consuming. There is no silver bullet to fix these problems or standard checklist for you to follow. We have laid the groundwork for CEOs and their teams by providing a framework for making better decisions, by giving recommendations, and by sharing reference materials and case studies. We sign on as individuals independent of our employers and affiliations, but share experiences and knowledge from building, advising, hiring, and inspiring teams and companies over the past several decades.

We want CEOs to use Project Include as a resource for creating meaningful solutions as they tailor our recommendations to their startups and situations. We want executives and managers to understand that diversity and inclusion is a company-wide effort driven from the top down to every employee: If a CEO isn’t invested in the success of D&I, these programs will not succeed.

The CEO can’t do it alone. We want to give employees  —  including Diversity & Inclusion and People Operations leads  —  ways to convince others, especially CEOs who have not yet made diversity a priority. We want every tech employee to understand how diversity and inclusion helps everyone when designed thoughtfully. We also urge VCs to use their considerable influence to lead change in their firms and their portfolio companies.

Join Project Include

We know our solutions are not perfect or complete; each company is different, and many systems and tools are unproven in practice. We also know that the tech community can change rapidly, and diversity is an evolving issue. Targeted individual efforts have brought needed attention to a longstanding problem; we want to unify the great work already in progress. So we invite you to join us as we start an open community and an open conversation.

Join us. Help us define our community, share your experiences with us, share your metrics with us, and/or sign up for updates. We hope that in six months’ time, our community of contributors will have grown tenfold. We are also want companies to implement these solutions so we can all work together to learn and improve them. Working together, we can make a difference.

Many people helped with this project, including hundreds of people who have written, taught, and taken action to promote diversity and inclusion. We are especially grateful to Mia Blume, s.e. smith, Sara Sperling, Heather Wilson, Eric Wingerter, and Brianna Wu for their contributions to this project. We also thank our reviewers who shared helpful feedback and their experiences on a tight schedule: Cristina Cordova, Stripe head of Bizdev; Mike Curtis, Airbnb VP Engineering; Griffin Gaffney, Stripe New Business; Harry Glaser, Periscope Data co-founder and CEO; Marc Hedlund; Luke Kanies, Puppet founder and CEO; Kate Mitchell, Scale Partners co-founder and partner and National VC Association Diversity Task Force co-chair; Dan Teran, Managed by Q co-founder and CEO; Yishan Wong; and Dennis Yang, Udemy CEO. Thanks also to B, Kaurwn Bliss, Dominique DeGuzman, Nicole Tompkins-Hughes, Amanda Warner, and Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler for help with case studies, @ForgottenTowel for help with our logo, and Bronwen Clune for help with metrics and surveys.

  1. Williams, J., Phillips, K., and Hall, E. (2014). “Double Jeopardy? Bias Against Women of Color In Science.” Berkeley, Ca.: Hastings College of Law. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.uchastings.edu/news/articles/2015/01/double-jeopardy-report.pdf

  2. See Open Diversity Data for examples.

  3. Gender-diverse companies show a 15 percent likelihood of financial outperformance, and ethnically diverse companies show 35 percent.

    Hunt, V., Layton, D., and Prince, S. (January 2015). “Why diversity matters.” McKinsey and Company. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters

  4. Catalyst. (October 1 2014). “Diversity Matters.” New York: Catalyst. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/diversity-matters

  5. Miller, D. (July 10 2015). “Tech Companies Spend Big Money on Bias Training  —  But It Hasn’t Improved Diversity Numbers.” The Conversation. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://theconversation.com/tech-companies-spend-big-money-on-bias-training-but-it-hasnt-improved-diversity-numbers-44411

    Kang, S., DeCelles, K., Tilcsik, A., and Jun, S. (March 29 2016). “The Unintended Consequences of Diversity Statements.” Harvard Business Review. Retrieved April 2016 from: https://hbr.org/2016/03/the-unintended-consequences-of-diversity-statements

  6. Miley, L. (November 3 2015). “Thoughts on Diversity Part 2: Why Diversity is Difficult.” Tech Diversity Files, Medium. Retrieved April 2016 from: https://medium.com/tech-diversity-files/thought-on-diversity-part-2-why-diversity-is-difficult-3dfd552fa1f7#.3b9gwynyp

    Noguchi, Y. (September 1 2015). “How Startups Are Using Tech to Try and Fight Workplace Bias.” NPR Codeswitch. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/09/01/434896292/how-startups-are-using-tech-to-mitigate-workplace-bias

  7. (March 2016). “Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership.” Washington, DC: AAUW. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.aauw.org/aauw_check/pdf_download/show_pdf.php?file=barriers-and-bias

    Elvira, M.M. and Zatzick, C.D. (2002). “Who’s Displaced First? The Role of Race in Layoff Decisions.” Industrial Relations Vol. 41(2): pp 329-361. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.ux1.eiu.edu/~cflsg/elvira.pdf

    Houston, G. (November 23 2015). “Global Diversity & Inclusion Update  —  Sharing Our Latest Workforce Numbers.” Official Microsoft Blog. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2015/11/23/global-diversity-inclusion-update-sharing-our-latest-workforce-numbers/ (During a one year period, the number of women working worldwide dropped from 29 percent to 26.8 percent.)

    Metcalfe, J. (November 4 2010). “After Layoffs, Firms are Less Diverse.” Law360. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.law360.com/articles/207006/after-layoffs-firms-are-less-diverse-study

    Prince, R. (December 19 2014). “Diversity is Taking a Hit at the New York Times Amid Buyouts, Layoffs.” The Root. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.theroot.com/blogs/journalisms/2014/12/journalists_rejoice_at_obama_s_restoring_relations_with_cuba.html

  8. Generally, technology companies that are pre-Series D and have fewer than 500 employees.

  9. Ideally these numbers would be weighted to consider market disparities like the racialized unemployment rate.

    Thompson, D. (November 2013). “The Workforce Is Even More Divided By Race Than You Think.” The Atlantic. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/11/the-workforce-is-even-more-divided-by-race-than-you-think/281175/

  10. For example, white men are 41 percent more likely to be executives than white women. It goes up to 260 percent more likely than Asian women, 418 percent than Black women, and 438 percent than LatinX women.

    Gee, B., Peck, D., and Wong, J. (May 2015). “Hidden in Plain Sight: Asian American Leaders in Silicon Valley.” Ascend Pan-Asian Leaders. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/ascendleadership.site-ym.com/resource/resmgr/Research/HiddenInPlainSight_Paper_042.pdf