Rising to Intel's Diversity Challenge

Multi-colored paper people representing diversity.
Multi-colored paper people representing diversity.

Biodiversity (adj. the variety of life in a particular habitat or ecosystem), is a measure of resilience, health, and vivacity of an ecosystem. This is the idea that as the diversity of species in an ecosystem grows, so too does its potential to adapt and react to disruptions. For example, a fire tears through a forest ecosystem. A bio-diverse ecosystem is able to quickly recover: plants begin to regrow using the nutrient rich remnants of the fire, and over time the ecosystem returns to a new and thriving equilibrium state. Biodiversity is measured on many levels, from the animals and plants through the smallest microscopic organisms. Absence of even the smallest microorganisms, invisible to the naked eye, doesn't bode well for the resilience or health of an ecosystem.

This diversity principle is favored in investment strategy just like it is in ecosystems. A well-diversified portfolio is a sign of resilience to changes in the market and a measure of the general health of a portfolio. In other words, diversity is a risk management tool. We can rest easy knowing that the performance of our investments is not determined by the performance of any one company, and when poor performance in one company inevitably occurs, it doesn't have a large impact on the overall performance of our portfolio.

What a great metaphor for discussing diversity in tech.

The natural world and investing tell us that diversity should be favored as a risk management tool and as a metric for the health and resilience of a company. Diversity of experience, perspective, and knowledge is essential in adapting to the forest-fire like challenges of running a successful business. Almost all measures of diversity in tech indicate absence of women and minorities. Many of the biggest tech companies - Intel, Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft - have begun report on the number of underrepresented minorities in their companies, always with a disclaimer that there is immense room for improvement. Intel is leading the charge - they recently released a 53-page 2015 report on diversity, including disclosing a timeline with goals on diversity metrics - something that Google, Apple, Facebook and other tech giants have refused to do.

Metrics like "number of minority/job title" are a great start, but metric driven approaches like these only see the big picture. They neglect the importance of the factors that behave like microorganisms. It's really hard to measure true diversity of perspective and ideas and how this affects our companies. It is easy to imagine a company that has equitable ratios of women and minorities but fails to productively incorporate diverse perspectives and influence into their culture. Employee retention rates are a good start to measuring how well minorities are integrated into culture (Intel did this). But in order to truly diversify, companies need to refine the intricacies of their culture, values, and processes to ensure that they are protecting even the smallest of microorganisms that are the key to their resilience and success.