Houston…Silicon Valley still has a diversity problem.  Last week Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was forced to resign in response to mounting pressure from investors following an investigation into allegations of rampant sexual harassment at the technology juggernaut he founded.

Faced with a public relations crisis and concerns from key investors, Uber’s board of directors engaged former Attorney General Eric Holder and his firm Covington and Burling to conduct a thorough investigation.  Astonishingly, what is now a crisis could have been avoided had the board of directors and leadership team taken the warning signs seriously and implemented basic processes and procedures found at companies known for being a best place to work.

The good news is that achieving outcomes is easier than most think.

The Problem is Real

Long before former Uber employee Susan Fowler published her accounts of sexism during her year with the company, there was plenty of evidence internally and externally that diversity and inclusion was a burning platform issue requiring immediate attention.  For years activists like Rev. Jesse Jackson have been calling on the tech industry to increase diversity in their workforces where representation of women and African-Americans is far lower than the national average.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the US workforce is comprised of 57% women and 14% African-Americans respectively.  Yet, diversity statistics released by technology companies help tell the story.  At Uber, only 36% of its workforce are women and 8% are African-Americans.  Google is worse, with only 31% of its workforce women and 2% are African-Americans.

The problem extends beyond tech.  According to Heidrick & Struggles’ latest Board Monitor Study, women accounted for 27.8% of new director appointments at Fortune 500 companies in 2016, a 2% decline from the previous year.

Despite millions of dollars invested in diversifying the talent pipeline and on unconscious bias training to mitigate the negative impact on hiring and promotions in Silicon Valley, progress has been slow due to continued high attrition among women and people of color.  Some attribute this job flight in technology companies to toxic workplace environments where harassment, bullying and stereotyping occurs as Ellen Pao alleged in her unsuccessful gender discrimination lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.

However, new research from the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll not only supports her claims but indicates there is a high cost if left unaddressed.  The study showed “workplace culture drives turnover, significantly affecting the retention of underrepresented groups, and costing the industry more than $16 billion each year.”  Nearly 8 in 10 employees who left tech jobs reported experiencing some form of unfair behavior or treatment, while 85% observed it.  Finally, 37% of respondents said they left their jobs because of it.

Solving the Problem is Not Rocket Science

While Holder’s assessment of Uber received extensive media coverage, the challenges identified in the report are not uncommon among companies struggling to increase the diversity of their workforce.  In fact, most of the recommendations are best practices that experts have widely publicized for years.  They include:

  • Business priority: Treat diversity and inclusion the same as other mission-critical skills like finance and marketing and have chief diversity officer report directly to the CEO
  • Core value: Demonstrate the importance of diversity and inclusion by making it a core value of the organization and essential to remaining competitive
  • Set specific goals: Define what success will look like with clear vision, mission and goals aligned with the organizational objectives
  • Nurture a culture of inclusion: Clearly define what kind of behavior equates with creating a welcoming environment and have leaders “live the values”
  • Create accountability: Make achieving diversity and inclusion goals everyone’s responsibility by including it as metric when measuring performance
  • Communicate authentically: Provide clear messages that help raise awareness among key stakeholders of the organization’s commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace
  • Be transparent: Provide regular updates on your progress and admit when you can do better
  • Build trust:  Establish social impact partnerships that invest in diverse communities

As someone whose career has dedicated his career to helping organizations create sustainable diversity and inclusion solutions, I am not interested as much why leaders buy-in but that they do.  My hope is that a report issued by a well-respected former Attorney General will help boost the validity of a long- argued business case – that embedding diversity and inclusion into operational strategies is required to remain competitive in today’s multicultural marketplace.