Ryan Lawler

26 January 2021

30 min watch

While tech companies agree that having a global diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy is critical, the reality is that action often lags behind ambition.

During a Web Summit masterclass session, “Where To Begin Your Diversity and Inclusion Strategy,” Candice Morgan, along with Jiun Kimm, head of D&I at Samsung Next, presented practical advice any company can leverage to start its own DEI journey.

Morgan is the equity, diversity & inclusion partner at GV (formerly Google Ventures), where she creates inclusive strategies for GV and its portfolio companies. Previously, she was Pinterest’s first head of inclusion and diversity, where she established a culture and practice that accelerated the company’s DEI efforts around the globe.

BLM and social unrest in the U.S.

While 2020 had already unsettled billions of lives as the result of a global pandemic, the year was further punctuated by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement's global rallying cry. It's a potent reminder of how critical diversity and inclusion (D&I) is throughout the tech industry and how much work there still is to do.

Morgan said forthright workplace conversations about systemic bias and racism show momentum is moving in the right direction: “I think everyone coming back from Memorial Day weekend here in the U.S., and seeing that image of this man with a knee on his neck, was so disturbing that it forced people to say, ‘we need to have this conversation right now.’”

In fact, companies tell Morgan they’ve had conversations, brought in speakers, and conducted training sessions. When they ask what else they should do, she responds it’s critical to extend the discussion to customers, clients, and suppliers. “That starts the flywheel of this conversation not being limited to people, but also the product,” she said.

Morgan recommended companies have an overarching executive council that oversees diversity—not merely a group of volunteer employees. While you need different employees’ voices to inform strategy, they are not empowered to make necessary changes. You need the CEO and the entire C-suite "leaning in" at least quarterly, she said.

Companies should come up with metrics, she added, and then hold themselves accountable to those metrics and their overarching strategy at the board level.

D&I extends beyond hiring

To help cultivate an organizational culture that supports diversity, GV holds inclusion meetings, where every month they study systemic bias in a specific area, such as housing, redlining, and the wealth gap. Morgan said employees want to hear not only personal stories but also how these areas apply to business.

“In our case, it’s investing,” Morgan said. “People want to understand how we are thinking about this when investing.”

One example is how GV thinks about investing and healthcare inequity. Morgan predicted Thanksgiving and Christmas will be difficult for many in 2020 because of COVID-19, and the company acknowledged that those with lower income or socioeconomic status have challenges regarding access to mental health care. This became a question in terms of the company’s investment strategy: “How do we think about who we incubate to address some of these healthcare inequities?”

As another example of diversity in a company’s business line, Morgan described a research project at Pinterest. She considered the implications of a user experience in which the search results do not reflect diversity. “Not seeing a face that looks like yours has an impact on everything,” she said.

Her research team asked users across different backgrounds about what type of personal data might be shared to improve diverse search results. For instance, did they want to enter information about their own background so that Pinterest could customize their individual search results? People said no; that they expected the search results to be diverse enough that different skin colors, body types, and ages would show up for everyone, regardless of their race or gender. That feedback informed a revised search tool that is now rolling out internationally.

In addition to making sure their products and services reflect diversity, Morgan said B2B businesses should also consider their end customer. “Does your workforce resemble that end customer in any way? Regardless of your business, whether you have a consumer product, an enterprise product, or a life sciences service, I think there is a way to apply this to your business’ revenue goals.”

D&I success requires tuning-in

Don’t be tone-deaf when sending out communications about diversity, Morgan warned. For instance, employees in a global company will have a wide range of perspectives and expectations. “It's frankly quite embarrassing when those global communiques about diversity are so steeped in U.S. culture, and assume everyone reading it is American,” she said.

Be careful, too, she added, about what you think of as shared terminology. For example, she recalled traveling in Germany, where conversations about race and social justice were received very differently. Many companies, for example, won’t even use the German word Rasse (“race”). Germany’s commissioner for combatting anti-Semitism explains that “the term race is a social construct that is designed to devalue and to discriminate against people.”

Culture differences abound, even in countries that share the same language. For instance, Morgan noted that in the U.K., she’s had very different conversations around Black, Asian, minority, and ethnic employees. "If you're using terms like African-American to describe your black diaspora," she said, "you're kind of erasing people. Also, the hyphenated identity that a lot of Americans and many other cultures use is very different in France."

It’s crucial, she said, to continue speaking with your employees across regions and make sure you understand the context: “Learn, I guess, is what I'm saying.”

A more equitable and inclusive future

Morgan said she’s heartened by the conversations she sees happening between venture, private equity, and other financial offices. She’s happy to see funding she doesn't think was happening before, with firms co-investing. “Those conversations are coming from all levels, across fund managers, across operators. That’s really powerful.”

“We've even seen organizations, like BLCK VC, for example, that are focusing on increasing the proportion and ratio of black investors,” she said.

She noted that people are starting to look at information such as the fact that 40 to 50 percent of investors come from two schools. At last, she said, people are saying, “I need to do something about this."

Finally, Morgan was hopeful that all the positive efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion continue in the new year and beyond. “I'm nervous that there's a kind of downclock, and people will be like, ‘Well, that was 2020,’” she said. “I have to admit that I feel a sense of pressure about it.”

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