Diversity: a Silicon Valley perspective


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The tech sector has long been synonymous with the ideal of a ‘cool’ workplace. Beanbags, ping pong tables, free food – everyone’s got a friend of a friend who works for a tech company; that person who comes home raving about the fun, inspiring atmosphere in their office, boasting about all the company perks. When you look a bit deeper though, tech companies aren’t just cool workplaces, they’re also inclusive workplaces. We have many tech companies in our network who are making great strides in inclusion, so ahead of our first ever OUTstanding event in San Francisco, we are bringing you a Silicon Valley perspective on diversity, inclusion and why it matters.

Since its inception, Facebook has been at the forefront of the inclusive workplace revolution. It has been unwavering in its commitment to the LGBT+ community, demonstrating support via products, policies, company benefits and activities. In addition to vocal support at the most senior level (Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder, Chairman & CEO and former #1 on the OUTstanding 2015 Ally Executives role model list ), Facebook has openly out employees at all levels of the organisation. There’s a strict zero-tolerance policy in place for any type of harassment or discrimination and all staff are encouraged to undergo 'Managing Bias' training; a course so successful that it has been made publically available and customisable to assist other firms on their inclusion journey. Facebook has also made a stand politically and in the courts, publically showing their commitment to advancing equality and ending discrimination, particularly around same-sex marriage laws, the Equality Act and anti-bullying policies.

It’s crucial for companies to ensure that they’re not just paying lip service to the diversity agenda – they need to walk the walk too. Facebook’s benefits package is not only generous, but also relevant and reflective of its workforce. Employee medical insurance covers gender reaffirmation surgery and related medical/mental health services. Adoption and fertility support plus four months of paid parental leave is available to all employees, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. And like many other firms, gender-neutral bathrooms and shower rooms have been installed.

Globally, Facebook employees are visible and vocal in their support for Pride, marching in local parades (1000 staff were at San Francisco Pride alone in 2016), changing the campus decor to rainbow colours and flying the rainbow flag. And the products they develop are equally inclusive for their huge global user base, with Facebook offering same sex life event icons, PRIDE-themed profile frames, a rainbow flag reaction, LGBT+ themed stickers and filters for Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, and gender selection options beyond just male and female.

However, it’s not just social media companies who are making great strides. More traditional tech companies have also been ahead of the curve with LGBT+ inclusion. IBM, one of the most famous names in the industry admits that it is key to their success – they think about diversity the same way they do about innovation. They see both as intrinsic parts of the company’s DNA. Parts that are essential for ensuring both business success for the company and personal success for their employees.

Globally, IBM has an Equal Opportunity statement to enable all employees to be successful and thrive within the organisation. It is upheld by managers in all countries where IBM operates, and includes sexual orientation (since 1984), gender expression and gender identity amongst others. Having a global strategy and set of corporate values that are shared the world over has been fundamental to IBM’s success. They have cultivated a supportive environment whereby people share values and inclusive behaviours. There are structures and programmes supported both from the D&I teams, the LGBT Global Council, executive sponsors and  from local employee resource groups (Business Resource Groups at IBM), covering role modelling, supporting out LGBT+ executives, building an allies programme, partnering with NGO’s, etc...

Being a global organisation, IBM recognises that the attitudes may vary significantly between markets, with some regions being very challenging for LGBT+ employees outside of work. One way of encountering this is by running inclusion events in emerging markets to share knowledge gained elsewhere. One recent such example was a Role Models Leadership Development event in Manila, which allowed them to support LGBT+ inclusion, and a first Diversity and Inclusion Forum in Dubai.

Sharing, collaborating and most importantly of all, educating, have been the key to IBM’s success. Sharing stories, processes and best practices across their global network and down through their supply chain allows them to excel and innovate in all that they do.

IBM and Facebook are just two such firms amid a sea of forward thinking, game-changing companies. Silicon Valley is a hot bed of progress, innovation and success – we couldn’t think of a more perfect location for the OUTstanding Summer Reception, USA.

If you’re interested in attending the OUTstanding Summer Reception in San Francisco on 21st June, click here for more details.

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