How can tech firms fortify brands through cultural diversity?
Social Diversity series
Created on: April 12, 2017
Updated on: April 25, 2018
Written by Sehinde Raji
Paying lip service to diversity
Early last year in February to be exact, I applied for a number of software developer roles in the London area. The good thing was that I accepted invitations to interview. The disappointing aspects of this experience was that I soon learned that the organisation's only paid lip service to diversity.
In fact, a lot of them resembled the age-old cliché of the token character in the TV show South Park.
If you don’t already know within South Park, there is a character called Token or Token Black is "token black" and he is a black person placed amongst a crowd of white people to introduce racial diversity, ergo "Token Black".
Unbeknown to most people, Token is a highly skilled individual who annoys the white people within South Park because he doesn’t fit the typical “cultural stereotype” of a black person who sings and dances.
As a highly skilled full stack developer who specialises in web development, I can openly relate to Token’s experiences today.
Last month, I attended a hackathon that was primarily concerned with the creation of products that were accessible in nature. It was a lively and very thought provoking hackathon and it was extremely culturally diverse.
Organisation's that think long term, will prevent reputational damage to their brands. This is because they will put in to place culturally diverse teams who will test and screen products or advertisements prior to their release.
Over the past 2 decades I have worked in a variety of occupations within the tech industry ranging from teaching ICT in an overseas international primary school to working for software security organisation's that specialise in preventing unauthorised security intrusions within software.
Work during the London 2012 Olympics
Just over 5 years ago, I worked on a number of projects prior to and during the Olympics. This included working for large banks, I was involved in a remote working project that facilitated the provision of remote working tools to employees.
The work was relentless and it involved multi-tasking, and it included the careful management of large queues of people. The sad thing was that I kept over hearing repeated racist comments and banter between colleagues and lower management in their presence. These comments were very derogatory about the traveller community and transgendered people and they gradually got louder and louder.
The comments were very distracting and abusive and as time went on other communities were targeted. The project workload peaked just over halfway through and then the workload gradually decreased as the project was coming to an end. I thought that this would be an ideal opportunity to make a formal complaint to management about the comments that were made.
The complaint was taken seriously and I received an apology and I started a new contract within a different part of the company.
The most disappointing aspects of this was that further action wasn’t taken as I felt that the organisation could have learn't valuable lessons on how racially sensitive comments could be dealt with in a more formal manner within a pressurised environment.
Pepsi Advert by Kendall
Another example of a culturally insensitive situation was the release of the Kendall’s Pepsi advert called a “Live For Now Moments Anthem” in the US.
It received some vociferous criticism in the manner in which ethnic minorities were mocked.
Here is the link:
As a reminder, the advert shows a large protest and a TV star is on the protestor's side of the protest. The TV star removes her blonde wig and offers the police officer a can of Pepsi and joins the line of police officers.
How were we portrayed ?
The overall portrayal of the ad appears to indirectly mock participants in the Black Lives Matter movement and it is unhelpful imagery to say the least. Pepsi withdrew the advert after many protests, it was never broadcast outside of the US.
How can this be improved ?
You may ask yourself how does this relate to tech companies, and the answer is if you substitute Pepsi with a tech company you will see how cultural diversity can affect a brand negatively.
Here are some ways in which we can increase diversity without breaking the bank:
Set recruitment targets for ethnic diversity Embrace and work with cultural affinity groups Commitments to the reduction of implicit bias in recruitment Name blind recruitment Outreach programs Reverse mentoring
United Airlines alledged assault on aircraft
And finally, a more recent example is the man who was dragged off a United Airlines flight in Chicago and he was subsequently physically assaulted and abused due to overbooking.
What is Reputational Damage ?
Reputational damage is a risk of loss resulting from damages to a firm's reputation, in lost revenue; increased operating, capital or regulatory costs; or destruction of shareholder value, consequent to an adverse or potentially criminal event even if the company is not found guilty.
We all have a responsibility to provide safe spaces within tech organisation's where our community contributions can be listened to and our contributions acted upon.
Far too much time is spent on defence and not enough time is spent on listening and engaging with our concerns.
Engagement is the key and it will prevent the kinds of faux pas that companies have risked their reputations on and lost.
London is a very diverse city
According to the last census in 2011, the population of London is described as 45% as being white British, 15% white Other.
Our community is growing and the organisation's that can keep up and adapt to change are the ones who will benefit.
Diverse organisation's have a competitive advantage over their competitors this is because they adapt very quickly to changing demographics.
What has happened to the remaining 40% of London’s BME minority population and why are they not reflected in the organisation’s that I attended last year for interviews?