Parker Harris: Let’s Lean In for More Diversity in Tech

MP_QA_005In many cases, amazing innovations start with a single question. When we started Salesforce, we asked “Why can’t business software be as easy to use as Amazon.com?” And with that question, we completely disrupted enterprise software. We also asked “Can you build a software company rooted in philanthropy?” From that question, the Salesforce Foundation and the 1-1-1 model of integrated philanthropy were born.

One of the questions I’ve been trying to answer recently is “How can we get more women into technology?” The answer is more than just women “Leaning In.” Tech leaders play a big role in in creating more diversity and ensuring that a more varied range of voices rise to the top. That is why I’m proud to support LeanIn.org’s new initiative, #LeanInTogether, which gives men an opportunity to advocate for the diversity that keeps us all innovating and improving.

Leadership truly sets the tone. Are we actively try to recruit, provide opportunities for and promote women? As a cofounder of Salesforce, I am committed to asking these questions and challenging myself to do better. Below are a few things we should all do to create more diverse, more successful teams:

Be transparent and facilitate an open dialogue.

It all starts with your culture. You have to create an environment in which people can have open and honest discussions about these challenges. Are you having the tough conversations? Are you allowing employees to express their opinions and ideas? At Salesforce, we have several communities that facilitate the dialogue in a open way, and I love that our employees feel comfortable talking about diversity openly. It's the first step toward change.

Address unconscious bias.

No matter how inclusive we strive to be, it's hard to step outside yourself and see the assumptions you bring to a situation. Researchers call it either unconscious bias or implicit bias, but the definition is the same according to a report published last year by The Ohio State University: it is “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” If employees are aware that bias works on a subconscious level, they may try to be more aware of their actions and attitudes. We also need to hold ourselves and our employees responsible for acting on biases, unconscious or not.

Develop diverse tech talent early.

Code.org estimates computing jobs will more than double by 2020 and increasing participation in computer science education is the key to having more women — and more people — in the field of engineering. I believe every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science, whether they go to public or private school. Let’s make it a part of the core curriculum. At Salesforce, we support organizations like Code.org, Black Girls Code, and Girls Who Code, who are all dedicated to this mission.

Engineering teams with people from different backgrounds, who have a variety skills and perspectives, will help you identify opportunities, anticipate and solve problems, and innovate faster than your competition. In fact, a 2012 study found that employees who felt included and believed diversity was supported at work were able to innovate more (an 83 percent increase), and team collaboration improved by 42 percent. You can bet sales went up as a result.

At Salesforce, we believe for a company to do well financially, we must do good. And creating a culture that appreciates diversity is a big part of it. It’s a challenging task — one that starts with our children’s educational system, requires mentorship and fostering of talent along the way, and ultimately leads to a truly representative workforce. It won’t be easy, but we can make an impact with every question we ask and every conversation we have.

Parker Harris is co-founder of Salesforce and oversees product strategy.

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