XRDS • SUMMER 2014 • VOL. 20 • NO. 4
of truth, but they also leave room for
bucketfuls of hidden biases.
Our sister organization, the Level
Playing Field Institute, recently studied the impact of hidden bias in tech
workplaces—both large companies
and startups. What was striking was
the degree to which engineers and
managers in the same companies
have day-to-day experiences that differ dramatically. Even though they’re
often on the same team or in the same
department, some feel respected and
encouraged, while others feel excluded
and ignored. These views aren’t randomly distributed across the group of
engineers and managers, they strongly
correlate to race and gender.
A particularly striking finding was
while 60 percent of men in startups
believe diverse teams are better at in-
novation and problem solving, only 41
percent would be in favor of a company-
wide hiring practice to increase diver-
sity. Really? If 60 percent believed, for
example, knowing how to code made
for better hires, would only 41 percent
be in favor of hiring people who knew
how to code?
In that same study, women and underrepresented people of color were
far more likely to believe in the importance of diverse representation on
teams and to support company hiring practices to achieve diversity than
their white, male counterparts. Underrepresented people of color were nearly
twice as likely as whites to be in favor
of a company-wide practice to increase
diversity (80 percent compared with 46
percent). Eighty-two percent of men
in startups believed their companies
spent the “right amount of time” addressing diversity.
Until our experiences of our
shared workplaces converge, we will
continue to confuse “style and fit”
with merit. This undermines fundamental fairness and robs individuals,
companies, and society of the benefit
of everyone’s talents.
Imagine a company that innovated
in order to figure out how to achieve
bias-free hiring, or to help employees
balance their careers, children, and oth-
er life pursuits. As long as we have one
and only one model of success (Marissa
Mayer spoke of working 20 hours a day
at Google and sleeping under her desk)
and one view of what talent looks like (ei-
ther a graduate or a dropout of a top-tier
university), we’ll all lose out. Economies
cannot remain—or become—competi-
tive without finding all available talent,
nurturing it, and providing opportuni-
ties for budding entrepreneurs, inves-
tors, and employees from every corner.
HO W BIAS UNFOLDS
In the United States, there is a significant underrepresentation of African-American and Latino employees
generally, and female engineers specifically within startups. This is a complex phenomenon, but mostly due to
1. Lack of social network or college
pedigree for diverse applicants.
2. Risk profile and compensation.
3. The bias of “culture fit” related to
race, class, and/or gender.