Similar to gender and racial discrimination in our society, the challenge with corporate diversity is based in social structure. The entire history of corporations has set us up for failure when it comes to treating all employees with equal respect and dignity. It is problematic to incorporate diverse voices into decision-making, ensuring they are heard, in typical corporate structures.
The odds are even worse against the marginalized. Equal chances to win the game can only be expected with fair rules that are applied to all players. Corporate inclusion and social inclusion both require the structure to be rebuilt to offer equal chances to all. That kind of change is not easy, even if it looks simple on paper. Fortunately, there is a solution for corporations that offers incremental, profitable change, avoiding significant restructuring from the get-go.
Supporting the current structure with diversity
Implementing a diversity initiative from the top down, with diverse executives, board members or managers, is a great catalyst for change but with considerable friction. For a company that has operated a certain way for a long time, changes to the day to day operations can come at a glacial pace, with ground-shaking consequences. Working for change from the bottom up can be seen as quicker, profitable and with significantly reduced friction.
While running a law firm part-time, I have made an interesting observation: the way I am treated as a consultant attorney (as a vendor rather than as an employee) is fundamentally different than the way I am treated as an employee. As a consultant, my time is far more valued, even if as an employee I have the titles of Executive General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer. When dealing with the same individual in the same executive role, being my client versus being my boss results in two different levels of respect. As a consultant, I would never get asked to sort any mail, as my hours are much too expensive for that. However, as an employee I routinely got mail dumped on my desk.
Rather than changing the corporate hierarchy completely, simply plugging in the diverse individual as a consultant reduces many of the friction points. This improves both the individual’s experience and the employer’s operations.
Supplementing a corporation with diversity
Many American corporations are structured the same as they always have been, when managers and workers were predominantly white men with a wife at home looking after the children and the household. Work days began before school drop off and ended after children were picked up. Corporations didn’t need to consider any household needs because all family needs were of course provided for by the worker’s salary.
With an office full of men, business hierarchy ended up looking a lot like the military. There was a man at the top of a pyramid, and layers of management reducing in power, with instructions and ideas passed down from the top. This worked for centuries of industry. Any practice in place for centuries will take quite some time to change, and any change will be difficult and resisted.
The greatest value of diversity is listening to the comments brought up by diverse individuals, and implementing their ideas. Corporate structure shows that if diverse people are brought in at the bottom or even the middle of the pyramid, acting on their ideas and goals is difficult. A corporation generally has not built their structure to hear those voices. And then consider how corporations have historically undervalued household work and child care – and that these diverse workers are handing them in addition to meeting employment objectives.
From the very start with AnnieCannons, we understood the challenges faced by our workforce of human trafficking-survivors-turned software developers. These women, predominantly women of color, were not going to thrive in jobs in the traditional corporate hierarchy of technology companies. Few had the typical college degrees, and many had arrest records from their time of exploitation. Even with the best programming skills in the world, they would be oppressed even more than other women in a traditional corporate structure. Rather than becoming part of the body of the corporation, they needed to become appendages, supplementing the company with their skills and diversity.
Fortunately, we have been able to show those same corporations the value of our diversity-by-appendage model. Companies get the benefit of our programmers’ diverse ideas and perspectives as well as their technical skills – but not by hiring them. Instead, they hire us, AnnieCannons, as a consultant.
How to increase diversity by appendage
Naturally, and unapologetically, we ignored the standards for traditional corporate structure as we developed AnnieCannons. We focused instead on our programmers and their needs – what did the most marginalized individuals in our world need to thrive as software developers? We organized a business based on what workers need now, as opposed to what they needed in 1950 – just as an individual consultant of color does for herself.
We value the needs of our workers’ children just as much as our workers’ employment requirements, and invest in child care. We actively seek feedback from our workers before making big decisions. We give them the authority to structure their day and share their knowledge. We remove the typical old corporate obligation of “appropriate” clothing, interaction, and speech by focusing instead on their work quality. All these would be nearly impossible to accomplish in a corporation of over 100 employees, even over a decade – there are too many minds set in the old corporate ways.
Regardless of a company’s individual hierarchy, when they hire us they gain the value of the diverse perspectives we’ve gathered. Whether we are building a simple website or a complex progressive web application, our programmers’ histories and ideas shine through. That is the quality of true diversity that spans gender, class, education, race, national origin, and family model.
The diversity appendage and traditional corporations are striving for the same outcome, to establish a more diverse voice within a company. As typically-structured companies see benefits (and profits!) from implementing diversity appendages, change can happen. They will see internal friction from increased diversity decrease and doors slowly opening to diverse hiring across all layers of the hierarchy.
Meanwhile, female and minority workers enjoy a tailored work environment that is set up for their success. For example, with an A/B comparison of what workers with children can accomplish when provided with child care, and the recruiting value of such a benefit, it becomes easier to convince a board to embrace such a significant expense. Success with these initiatives will direct the development of evolved technology companies that equally serve workers and clients of all races and genders.
Wrapping it up
Rather than inject millions into a recruiting budget that will hire women and people of color into a corporate structure that isn’t set up for their success, consider hiring consultants to bring their expertise – and their diversity – to your products and services. This can be a way to hear a unique perspective and voice without causing undue friction to a long-established team. Utilizing a diversity appendage can quickly elevate and empower diverse candidates, and likely lessen friction if a consultant does end up an employee. Even better, their input will help executives establish a plan to successfully change the corporate structure and to truly diversify their entire hierarchy.
With such corporate growth, change can occur at all levels, hearing equally from all voices without fear or judgement. And then our world becomes a better, more inclusive, more collaborative place.