What diversity should not be about, especially in software teams

Diversity is any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. Its main goal is to encompass acceptance and respect. It means understanding by surpassing simple tolerance to ensure people truly value their differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. And, even if it looks simple to accomplish, I want to give in this post a quick overview of what I think diversity should not be about.

Why is diversity so important in software teams?

Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups. 2

Practices related to the work environment could contribute to inclusion as well as to organizational results. Diversity could impact positively on aspects such as innovation efficiency and teamwork on different phases of software development and knowledge areas.

Difficulties have been encountered concerning equality in the IT industry, as well as barriers to inclusion of people with disabilities. Finally, the software development environment still consists of a majority of men unequally representing society, so there is an open field to practices that promote inclusion and a better understanding of this phenomenon to promote the equity of opportunities within the scope of software engineering. 1

How companies and leaders can promote diversity within their workforce

1. Encourage dialogue

The best way to promote diversity in your workplace is by embracing it and working to build an understanding. Getting to know your colleagues on a personal level, regardless of their culture and background, will help you to find common ground, deepen your appreciation of differences, and promote an inclusive and welcoming work environment.

2. Reconsider stereotypes

Stereotypes are oversimplified images or ideas about social identity groups — for instance, older adults are sometimes assumed to be “bad at technology.” And while this may seem harmless, stereotypes are overwhelmingly inaccurate and can negatively impact decisions around employment, education, the justice system, housing and financial services. By taking time to reconsider stereotypes internally and question whether the assumptions we are making are supported by real evidence specific to an individual, we can work to ensure everyone is valued equally.

3. Seek difference

In short, when people perceive one another as members of the same in-group, racial bias — and possibly other forms of bias against groups of people — tends to melt away. Thus, the way to increase inclusion in the workplace is to make everyone feel like they’re part of the same team.

Many studies5 support this idea, at least implicitly, and one way to create an in-group feeling among people is to establish shared goals. Inclusion programs can make a start by creating teams whose members matter to one another because they’re part of the same in-group, pursuing the same interests. Focusing on common goals, and a common identity, will be critically important for eliminating bias — both within the enterprise and in leading the way for society at large.

What diversity should not be about

I’m not personally in favor of hiring targets or any kind of initiative that could bias your processes in terms of diversity. Besides that, promotion and evaluation decisions should never be based on diversity criteria. One research conducted by BCG showed that this is one of the big risks of misunderstanding diversity in an organization. 4

Recently, the movement to promote diversity in software teams is mainly geared toward getting more women into the workforce. Although a noble cause, it’s missing the larger vision. If not expanded, the movement risks alienating other minorities groups, and resulting in the lack of diversity within a different context.

In his book Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders, Jurgen Appelo paints a nice picture from the perspective of an employee:

I am ___. It’s not by choice. That’s how I was born. I am perfectly happy being ___. It’s no big deal. It’s just the way it is. But other people are making a fuss about it.

Some say there ought to be more people who are ___ in software development. They say we must invite people who are ___ to try a technical career, because there aren’t enough of them in our industry. And some say we should hire people who are because they “add diversity” to our teams.

I don’t see why.

Either people who are ___ like software development, or they don’t. (It’s unlikely they’ve never heard of it. Unless they are ***) I don’t favor an annual celebration day for ___ people in software development. And I don’t need awards or programming languages named after people who are ___. I certainly don’t like government subsidies for people who are ___. And I definitely don’t like positive discrimination (affirmative action) in favor of people who are ___. Because I think it is an insult to people like me who are both ___ and competent enough to create a career on their own.

And besides, if we make exceptions for people who are ___, then we should do the same for people who are @@@, ###, &&&, --- and ===. And where does that end?

Of course, when some #*! people are negatively discriminating against ___ people, we should fight them. But that’s all there is to it. Neutrality is our end goal. It’s not a stop somewhere halfway. I’m very happy that I am where I am today because I am competent. Not because some people hired me because I am ___.

Differences are what an organization draws on for its strength. And we really need to seek diversity, but we need to start small. Start thinking about you, review your concepts. Apply it to your team, and how you deal with your colleagues. Everyone has something of value to contribute to the equation at work. Each employee was selected to perform a job because he or she was viewed as having the talents, experience, education and/or expertise necessary to achieve company goals.

Defend minorities, but never raise the flag of a specific one. When differing opinions and ideas are considered, supportable decisions are born.