In this month of LGBT pride, I would like to share a conviction: diversity and inclusion are essential values in building effective, creative, and motivated teams. It is not enough to be a charismatic leader; you also have to know how to surround yourself.
Reason #1: the principle of non-discrimination
“No person can be excluded from a recruitment procedure or access to an internship or a training period in a company; no employee can be sanctioned, dismissed or be the subject of a direct or indirect discriminatory, as defined in article 1 of the law #2008-496 of May 27th, 2008, carrying various provisions of adaptation to the Community law in fighting against discriminations, especially about remuneration, within the meaning of the Article L. 3221-3, incentive measures or distribution of shares, training, reclassification, assignment, qualification, classification, professional promotion, transfer or renewal of the contract, because of their origin, gender, mores, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, marital status or pregnancy, genetic characteristics, particular vulnerability resulting from its economic situation, apparent or known for its author, its membership or non-membership, real or supposed, to an ethnic group, a nation or an alleged race, its political opinions, its union or mutualist activities, its religious convictions, his physical appearance, his last name, his place of residence or his bank domiciliation, or because of his state of health, his loss of autonomy or his handicap, his capacity to speak in a language other than French.”
Also, according to the Equality and Citizenship law passed in July 2016, the people in charge of recruitment must have training in non-discrimination at work every 5 years. This obligation, which also applies to recruitment companies, is found in article 214 of the law. It is also included in the Labor Code. The companies concerned are therefore required to include this type of action in their training plans.
Reason #2: diversity to avoid the production of racist products
What do H&M, Mango and Zara have in common, beyond being clothing brands? All of them had some “bad buzz” around racist and anti-Semitic products. They sell them in their stores without anyone ever realizing the horror that was produced.
In 2014, the Zara chain released a T-shirt for children with blue and white horizontal stripes, and on them was affixed a yellow sheriff star… but it looks more like the star of David that was imposed on the Jews during the Second War world. This immediately sparked protests online.
This error was not their first. In 2012, Zara had already shocked by going out on a fabric handbag printed in particular with a small swastika. The manager said that it was an Indian swastika and had nothing to do with the SS.
His competitor H&M is not to be outdone: in March 2014, he also had to quickly remove from his shops an anti-Semitic T-shirt, on which we saw a skull and cross on David’s star. This immediately provoked the anger of many customers and the outrage of the British Association of Jewish Students.
In 2017, the brand also shocked with an advertisement showing a black child wearing a sweatshirt with the inscription “Coolest monkey in the jungle.”
Mango was also “illustrated” in 2013 by marketing a line of “slave style” jewelry. The brand said that was an unfortunate misunderstanding. This explanation was not acceptable to two French anti-racist organizations, SOS Racisme and the Representative Council of Black Associations (CRAN). They sensitized Internet users who had massively signed a petition called “slavery is not fashion.” They finally removed the jewelry from the French market.
A team with strong values of diversity and inclusion probably wouldn’t have let these horrors pass. This requires diversity at all levels of the organization and the freedom to express on these subjects.
Conversely, appointing a “Diversity Director” seems to be a wrong idea just to give an image of “diversity and inclusion”. It was H&M’s choice who appointed Annie Wu to the post after that controversy over that racist advertising.
Reason #3: diversity to avoid algorithm bias
In an article published in April 2017 by the journal Science, Joanna Bryson, Aylin Caliskan and Arvind Narayanan, researchers from the universities of Princeton (New Jersey) and Bath (United Kingdom), show how a machine learning technology (machine learning) ) reproduces human biases, especially sexism and racism.
Similarly, Joy Buolamwini, a doctoral student at MIT, worked with facial recognition software. She noticed a problem: the software did not recognize her face. Those who coded the algorithm did not teach it how to identify a wide variety of skin colors and facial structures. By wearing a white mask, she was recognized immediately …
The main reason is related to the datasets used to train machine learning algorithms. They weren’t diverse enough.
We find this problem with bots. The lexical field of the texts used to train them reproduces stereotypes. One of the most well-known examples is probably Tay; a Microsoft AI launched in 2016, which was supposed to play a teenage girl on Twitter. Within hours, the program, learning from human interaction, began to make racist and denial statements, before being suspended by Microsoft in disaster.
To fight those biases, Joy Buolamwini launched the “Algorithmic Justice League“ and the #CodedGaze initiative to raise awareness in the tech community on the subject around three #InclusiveCoding principles:
- WHO code is important: let’s develop diversity in our teams,
- HOW code is important: make sure that diversity is essential, especially in our datasets,
- WHY code is important: we have the opportunity to bring more equality through the products we create.
Apple & HealthKit
In 2014 the Healthkit app was released without taking into account the female menstrual cycle. The measurement wealth of the Health app is impressive. It measures everything from forced expiratory volume to selenium, blood pressure, and the peripheral perfusion index. But it overlooks a setting that affects half the world’s population … Apple has called upon many stakeholders to imagine the Health app and the HealthKit platform – including doctors. The menstrual cycle has therefore mysteriously escaped the vigilance of Apple’s engineers, who are mainly … white men. Perhaps the three rules above would have avoided this error.
Reason #4: diversity to understand complexity
Diverse teams are better able to find ingenious solutions than groups of people – even bright ones – who think the same way. In the past, when companies encountered a problem in their market, it was generally relatively simple to solve. The solution was to make better or other products more efficiently. It’s not that simple anymore. The problems are now much more complex and, in some situations, they even have to be defined.
To innovate and grow, business must foster diversity – of thought, experience, and education – no matter what it costs. “Progress and innovation may depend less on bright people with high IQs and working in isolation than on diverse teams working together and capitalizing on their individuality,” said Scott Page in his book “Diversity in Complex Adaptive Systems.”
Diverse groups can overcome a lack of experience. They can surpass teams with a unique way of thinking and having more skills. Homogeneous teams are more likely to produce similar ideas that arise from identical views and interpretations. They approach a problem from a single angle. Diverse teams are tackling issues in a variety of directions. They are more likely to result in an original or unexpected discovery.
Reason #5: growth factor
The Harvard Business Review published in 2015 a report titled “Diversity Matters” by McKinsey to 366 companies in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Latin America.
This report showed that compared to the average for their industry, companies with:
- significant cultural and ethnic diversity has 35% more chance to have superior results
- favored parity are 15% more likely to have better financial results,
- In the UK, greater gender diversity in the management team was associated with better performance.
- For each 10% increase in gender diversity, EBIT increased by 3.5%.
- An absence of a policy of cultural diversity and parity is visibly lagging in terms of their results.
The real added value of multicultural teams lies in the meeting of different cultures. It makes it possible to approach the same problem from different angles. Thus, it is generally a source of wealth for the company, provided that it is both well established and well managed.
We welcome the initiative of Mounir Mahjoubi, former Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, who promoted a year ago the “French Tech Diversity.” The French Tech Diversity program aims to promote social diversity in the French startup ecosystem. It aims to detect and support the best startup projects carried out by entrepreneurs from disadvantaged neighborhoods, scholarship students, etc.
And I’d like to talk about MerciCookie, a startup for whom this topic isn’t just a statement of intent. It is clearly expressed in their values, as can be seen on their website, and in the post, “We almost fell into the macho cookie.”
And you, what can you do to promote diversity and inclusion in your teams?