The pipeline problem in tech is a myth, and while the issue of diversity and inclusion garners plenty of attention, tech giants—and the industry overall—make small strides towards progress as reports show modest or stalled growth.
D&I tech executive Valerie Williams says, “It’s not that hard.”
“When people talk about the pipeline problem, they don’t look at the nontechnical roles within the industry,” said Williams, the current global head of diversity and inclusion of Stripe, an online payment software company. “It seems to be a cop out when they say they can’t find talented people of color.”
A study released last year by Glassdoor found nearly half (43 percent) of open roles at tech companies are non-technical. However, countless diversity reports reveal tech companies are still struggling to find and retain diverse talent.
Williams, who has a degree in engineering from Georgia Tech and an MBA from Emory, has long been a champion of diversity and inclusion. She began her career at Hewlett-Packard (HP) where she worked in supply chain and helped minority business owners acquire contracts before redirecting her career towards her true passion—investing in human capital.
“With my work in supplier diversity, I found myself spending a lot of time with the people who didn’t get those contracts awarded to them—like women and people of color,” she recalled. “I wanted to help those who had been locked outside of the industry.”
In her current role at Stripe, Williams thinks about diversity and inclusion on a global scale. While some of her efforts focus on internal diversity initiatives like recruiting and employee resource groups, her external diversity projects include leveraging Stripe’s Atlas program to create more underrepresented entrepreneurs worldwide.
“Global economic access for underrepresented communities is the right move for the discussion in the industry when you think about long term impact,” she said on building Atlas–a platform making it easy for entrepreneurs everywhere to start an online business. “We can give people the tools to create wealth for themselves.”
Williams consulted on technical recruiting at Google and created talent search strategies at Russell Reynolds Associates before landing a gig as a recruiter for Airbnb in 2015.
Williams worked to make sure people felt welcomed internally. She also addressed diversity challenges on the platform. For instance, in 2015 a report showed guests with “black-sounding” names seeking rentals faced “widespread discrimination.”
A 2014 analysis of some of the country’s biggest tech giants by USA Today found that people of color are grossly underrepresented in non-technical roles such as sales and administration. Glassdoor predicts the demand for non-tech workers will increase in 2019.
“As the tech industry matures, employers will look to hire robust sales and marketing teams to transform technology into revenue,” Glassdoor wrote in their annual job market trends report.
Williams recalls this time, and the other moments that started the first rumblings of the now well documented problems most tech companies have tackling diversity internally.
“At the industry level, we’re all facing the same issues. There needs to be more industry-wide collaboration among people who are working on issues of diversity,” she said.
Though Stripe hasn’t publicly released their diversity data yet, Williams continues to work with managers to help them build a relationship with candidates long before they step inside the office for an interview.
“I try to get leaders to understand that hiring is an exercise of risk and that you have to put the investment in upfront and really show that you care,” she said, recommending managers organize gatherings like small dinners to get to know potential talent.
“Yes, we can have a program,” she said. “But if we can strengthen our empathy skills, a lot of this work would not be necessary.”