Late October, the Catalyze Tech Coalition released the Action to Catalyze Tech (ACT) report, which outlined best practices, accountability measures, and systemic changes needed to support workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion in the tech industry. 

More than 30 executives from Silicon Valley: Twitter, Salesforce, Spotify, LinkedIn, Google, and Apple, to name a few, signed on to ACT’s initiative to improve internal representation and the experience of people of color, women, LGBTQ+ workers, and first-gen graduates. 

This coalition of companies is now formally committed to incentivizing inclusive leadership, operationalizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), sharing data, and focusing on carving out career paths for underrepresented communities. 

Startups have a unique position as agents of change. The flexible agility of startup companies means that DEI can be at the forefront of workplace infrastructure, from the beginning. 

Industry-wide shift toward inclusive DEI

The push for diversity in tech seeks to overcorrect years of discriminatory hiring practices through conscious and unconscious bias regarding who represents the tech industry. But the importance of diversity goes beyond the obvious morality.

McKinsey’s 2019 workplace diversity analysis found that “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile—up from 21 percent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2014.”

In 2021, tech companies are facing an employee talent shortage and high turnover amidst the great resignation, and employees are critically evaluating employers that don’t meet their needs and match their values. 

Diversity is a major requirement for prospective employees. Over 80% of workers want to work for a company that values diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“Ignite, Testlio’s diversity initiative, was one of the major reasons I wanted to join Testlio.”

Lilian Caruana, Business Operations Project Manager, Testlio

Sometimes offering opportunities for inclusion with good intentions miss important realities (e.g. how can a participant pay her bills without working during a training?) Diversity initiatives are difficult to get right. Many have failed due to unsustainability, no executive leadership, or ignoring intersectionality. But there are also many positive individual initiatives and practices. Fiserv created a four-part plan to improve diversity across all levels of the organization, including investing $50 million to support Black-and minority-owned businesses through their Back2Business program. Clearcover established their own diversity and inclusion committee. Strava is optimizing their app with Black athletes in mind, and updating their employee and partner policies to be explicitly anti-racist.

But these individual cases are just that. Individual. One of the significant recommendations of the ACT report (that we’ll dive into below) is to open the gates between private tech companies to share DEI best practices, successes, accountability metrics, and how to address challenges. The goal is to standardize DEI reporting and data sharing across industries and companies to boost accountability, transparency, and data analysis.

Spotify Global Gender Data 11/5/21

Tech companies that signed on as signatories will also be required to collect, track and publish data about their diversity, including:

  • Intersectional data on representation, hiring, and attrition
  • Holistic data on the experience of different demographic groups at different stages in the employee life cycle
  • Expanded demographics beyond Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) categories (including intersectional data) through self-ID surveys
  • Anonymized DEI data with an industry body that will support standardization of DEI data collection

This comes as a massive request for a tech industry that has long been possessive and tight-lipped about non-tech data, internal benchmarks, and talent pools. With this push, igniting diversity in the tech industry begins with data transparency and integrity. DEI is a business strategy and should be treated the same way: data needs to be the basis of tracking progress, measuring success, allocating funds, and informing initiatives. 

The ACT report asserted that leading by example is a critically effective way to encourage industry-wide change. Collectively, no matter where your company is in its diversity journey, ACT has four significant recommendations:

  • Model and incentivize inclusive leadership. Change the way you think about DEI, and personally recognize and value it.
  • Operationalize DEI throughout the business. Apply a mindset shift to reimagine, disrupt, and redesign existing structures and systems.
  • Share DEI demographic data, metrics, and goals. Collaborate with industry peers to align on data collection and reporting. This is the only way to measure and improve progress across the board. 
  • Transform future pathways into tech for underrepresented talent. Meaningfully invest in education, and transform paths for underrepresented groups.

Startups have the opportunity to ignite DEI

For older, larger, and more established companies, investing in DEI means undoing years of racially, economically, and gender-based discriminatory hiring practices. On the other hand, startups have a unique opportunity to implement and support DEI strategies from the jump. Intentionally. 

Startups have a distinctive position as agents of change – they’re comprised of a younger workforce that tends to be more educated and passionate about diversity and inclusion. They are rapidly hiring and have the opportunity to create infrastructure allowing for a fully remote workforce and global base. They can weave opportunities for diverse and fair hiring practices into the foundation of their HR and hiring departments.

In a Techstars Diversity and Inclusion Report that surveyed 680 startups, only 12 percent employed five or more tech workers from underrepresented minority groups. Yet 72 percent said diversity was important to them. There’s passion, but without action and structure, startups can also fail to foster inclusion.

If the 150-page document overwhelms you, let’s break down ACT’s recommendation for startups who want to create a diverse culture from the beginning.

  1. Start by taking stock of your company and its commitment to diversity. Craft a mission statement specifically on DEI. Why is it vital that you be diverse? Get honest about how inclusive you are (or are not!) Get inspiration from big tech companies’ missions statements, like Snap Inc.’s diversity mission statement, and craft one unique to your startup.

2. Tie monetary rewards to diversity initiatives and hiring standards. 

3. If you aren’t in a position to hire, evaluate your current staff and work environment. Are you creating a culture that will retain great talent, regardless of identity? Are you equally distributing tasks such as administrative work to men and women? Do you reward diverse initiatives? Are you exploring leadership development opportunities for all employee communities?  

4. Create a diversity task force with leadership buy-in. Support the force’s research, recommendations. Have them track metrics, be honest about failures, and look for innovative ways to promote DEI.

5. Craft a diverse leadership team. Equity is not a 99% white male leadership team and a diverse set of new hires. Testlio’s executive leadership team is over 50% female. 

How to create a DEI program

Successful DEI programs, from startups to GAFAM, follow similar pathways to strive for equity among socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, locations, and diverse gender identities and sexualities. Start here:

  • Do your research. Know the major hurdles to great DEI in your industry. 
    • Start by asking yourself statistical questions around the makeup of employees, founders, and leaders in your industry. 
    • Then, go internal. Find out the makeup of your company, your promotions and create an internal report. Here’s Dropbox’s. 
  • Pay fairly. Colorado now mandates a salary range in every job description. 
    • Facebook pays interns based on their contribution to the company – often leveling out around $8,000 per month.
  • Provide resources. 
    • The Testlio Ignite provides connectivity, technology, and other resources to help participants begin.
    • Create internal employee-driven diversity groups, leaders, and exercises.  
  • Check barriers to entry. Are your job requirements excluding minority groups?
    • Google no longer requires computer science degrees from accredited universities for programming jobs. 
  • Be distributed-by-design. Requiring in-person attendance can alienate and exclude refugees, migrants, low income, or parents.
    • Offer flexible hours, remote work, hybrid work like Spotify. 
  • Provide training. Allow those without traditional training or education to participate. Provide a 1:1 mentor, online sessions, video training.
    • Apple’s Developer Academy at Michigan State University helps entrepreneurs, creators, and coders with both short-term and long-term programs that teach the fundamentals of coding, design, and marketing.

Improving workplace DEI is no longer a recommendation. Global workers, investors, and customers are demanding equity, inclusion, and a diverse workplace that is proactively dismantling barriers to entry.

Testlio’s diversity initiative in action

Taking note of the need for diversity intiatives, Testlio created Ignite, a ten-week scholarship-based program that helps underserved communities initiate careers in remote software testing and gain access to tech-related employment opportunities.

The first class of Testlio’s Ignite Scholarship Program graduated in November of 2020 and participants went from having little to no experience in software testing to working as remote software testers for Testlio. 

The participants of Ignite were trained through a 1:1 services mentor, self-paced online sessions, video conference meetings, and real software testing initiatives for one or more Testlio clients. They gained real work experience directly applicable to their resume.

The class of 2021 participants became proficient in 9 testing capabilities, 9 software tools, and completed 46 test runs across 19 Testlio client projects. 

“I came to the US after graduating from college in my home country of Brazil. I faced a lot of challenges due to language barriers and only having a student visa. Joining Ignite helped me get my confidence back. Being an Igniter makes me feel empowered, strong, skilled, smart, and ready for any challenge.”

Marina Daltro, a 2021 Ignite participant.

The Ignite class of 2021 recently graduated 11 participants come from all walks of life and locations around the world. Some of these locations don’t have access to tech companies that could support their developments or provide careers for them to succeed in life. Other participants have identities and/or experiences that make it harder for them to obtain work in the technology field due to incarceration, refugee status, income restrictions, disabilities, and LGBTQIA identities.

Lilian Caruna, Marina’s mentor, explained how Testlio’s investment in DEI invigorated her commitment to diversity, this initiative, and to Testlio.

“During the graduation, when participants spoke up and said what they gained from Ignite, I would have been willing to put in twice the time and effort because of what Ignite did for them.”

Lilian Caruna

Kassidy Kelley serves as the Managing Editor for Testlio and works from her home base in Boston, MA.