When Diversity Helps and Hurts Your IT Project
Diversity has become a buzzword. We need more diversity in our recruitment, our promotions and in management. However, businesses are losing sight of objectives like improving software quality, decreasing defects or selling product in new markets in the quest to be more politically correct than the competition or mollify critics who scream “diversity” without a reason except, perhaps, to justify being hired.
When does diversity help your IT project? And when does a race to improve diversity at the expense of other factors hurt your IT project?
When does diversity help an IT project?
• Diversity helps when you have someone familiar with another culture - your customer's culture - when designing hardware, software or services.
• Linguistic diversity is invaluable when you need to write instructions and documents in another language. Having someone with the native language on your team will result in better translations than if a finalized document is given to a third party translation service. For example, the electronics term “free space flow path” won’t translate properly into German unless translated by someone who understands English, German and electrical engineering.
• A diversity of stakeholders and reviewers results in software that is more user-friendly and meets more requirements than software written by programmers per requirements set by system administrators.
• A diversity of experience levels brings fresh insight to a project. When those developing an application or platform have worked in a number of different industries, the final product is more likely to be appealing to a larger user community.
• A diversity regarding software languages, platforms, problem solving methodologies and operating systems one understands leads to robust software development, creating something that will run reliably across many platforms. If you have both Android and iOS programmers, you are more likely to get an application that is truly device agnostic, capable of running on every device your customers may own.
• A diversity of industry experiences may lead to new applications of an existing product. For example, an inventory management software used by the warehouse might be recognized as suitable for managing customer returned material in another department.
• Diversity of work experience and training levels improves the performance of your help desk. For example, a team only familiar with your software application may not recognize when the problem is the user’s desktop environment. Familiarity with the application also leaves them unable to diagnose problems when they reside on the network, are caused by firewall settings or a CITRIX environment used to deliver apps residing on the cloud.
When does diversity hurt an IT project?
• Diversity hurts IT projects when a mostly male team has people added simply to make it gender-balanced or racially balanced. This drives up the labor cost without any real value.
• Traditional diversity metrics focus on the race and gender of team members. It fails to take into account team members who came from other countries but have a similar racial background, bringing an international perspective to the team.
• Endlessly discussing “diversity” and dividing a workplace into employee resource groups by race, gender, age and profession interferes with the ability of work groups to work together as groups. The endless promotion of “diversity” can backfire as people view others as their demographics instead of coworkers and team members.
• Diversity goals can lead to doubts about all promotions and assignments management makes. Will a Caucasian manager be reluctant to promote a qualified Caucasian person, because of charges of racism? If a black manager promotes another black person, will the team assume it is to meet diversity quotas instead of the person being the most qualified candidate for the job?
• When more people are added to a team than actually required in order to ensure that there is at least one woman or minority, the review and approval cycle is slowed down for no good reason.
• Diversity as a goal can lead to the best and brightest self-selecting themselves out of the talent pool. Will candidates from less “diverse” groups like Asians or Indians be reluctant to apply because they assumed they will be discriminated against? If diversity is a stated HR goal, will star performers who happen to be white leave the company because they see no future with the firm? “Diversity” mandates at universities has led to Asian medical students having to have higher test scores than whites and far higher test scores than blacks to be admitted to medical school. Due to competition, how many Asians then go into pharmacy, nursing or business instead of medicine? Companies that say they want certain percentages of various categories in management might dampen the aspirations of their best people; whether they find employment at firms that don’t care about their race or choose to stay in a lower pay grade is up to them.
• Diversity subtly undermines a company’s bottom line when it has to pay above industry wages to the single black female programmer they could find in the applicant pool. And the pay differential further undermines trust among coworkers when it is discovered.