Many of us (speaking from the tech sector where I work) think the sector’s workplace diversity isn’t very good. Specifically, there aren’t enough women. Large companies — all the ones I’ve worked for, anyhow — have goals, and generally work hard at meeting them. Many companies now say they care about diversity, and have goals around improving it. But improvement is painfully slow; why? Maybe part of it is that those aren’t the same kind of “goals”.
How business goals work
When I say “large companies have goals”, I mean that in a very specific way. Each planning cycle, company groups and their managers take on a set of explicitly written-down goals for that planning cycle. Goals are tracked in a simple database and at the end of the year, each group/manager gets a pass/fail on each. The way that goals are defined and refined and agreed to and recorded and structured differs from place to place; at Google and several other big high-techs, they’re called OKRs.
The percentage of goal completion that’s regarded as “good” also varies, but it’s never 100%. The idea is that your reach should exceed your grasp, and if you score 100 you might have been sandbagging, choosing insufficiently ambitious goals to make yourself look good.
Goal completion is deadly serious business among most management types I’ve known, and the number has a real effect on career trajectory and thus compensation. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that in business, those things matter a whole lot.
Goals are sorted into “output goals” (example: $100M in sales for a product) and “input goals” (example: five customer visits per week by every salesperson). They can be technical too, around things like uptime, latency, and trouble tickets.
Input and output are not mutually exclusive. Input goals are at some level more “reasonable” because they are things that an organization controls directly. Output goals are more aggressive, but also liberating because they turn teams loose to figure out what the best path is to getting that sales number or uptime or whatever.
Generally, I like this management practice: Setting goals and measuring performance against them. It drives clarity about what you’re trying to achieve and how well you’re doing.
Diversity goal questions
Here’s a question: For any given company, do its diversity goals work like regular company goals? That is to say, do they go into the percentage completion number? The number that managers get judged on and rewarded for meeting?
I actually don’t know what the answers would be for most high-techs, but I suspect it’s “Not often enough.” I suspect that because the diversity numbers across the high-tech landscape are universally pretty bad, and because the people in management are generally, you know, pretty smart, and will come up with remarkably clever ways to meet the goals they’re getting judged on.
I’ve also observed that while the numbers are unsatisfying in the large, there are teams who consistently manage to do better than others at hiring and retaining women. And by the way, anecdotally, those are good teams (with good managers); the kind who get things done and have low attrition rates and happy customers.
Here’s another question: For diversity, should we be talking input or output goals? I say: Why not both? I’m not expert on the state of the art in building diversity, but wherever we know what the equivalent of “five customer visits per week” is, let’s sign teams up for a few of those. And yeah, output goals. Let’s ask managers to double the proportion of women engineers, measure whether they do it or not, and leave the details to them. The good ones will figure out a way to get there.
It’s like this: If you claim you have diversity goals, but your managers’ careers don’t depend on their performance against those goals, you don’t really.