Pramata CEO Praful Saklani talked with TechRepublic about how diversity impacts a company's success, and why business leaders should get out of their bubble and talk to a wider variety of people.
TechRepublic's Dan Patterson talked with Praful Saklani, CEO and founder of commercial relationship management firm Pramata. According to a report by the company, organizations that do not foster an inclusive environment eventually lose out by not getting the right talent.
Watch the video, or read their conversation below:
Patterson: Praful, thank you for your time today. Let's kind of start with the business premise that not diversifying your talent pipeline can have a significantly negative impact on the company's health.
Saklani: Yeah. Again, thanks for taking the time to talk about this important topic. I think that it's very relevant based on everything we're seeing in the news about gender equality and meritocracies, especially in the tech industry. The reality is that with the economies around the world right now doing so well, companies need to be very competitive with the talent that they attract into their companies, and I think having a culture that in effect either disincentivizes or disqualifies 50% of the world's population, it's just not good business practice.
In our own company we've seen amazing results from having an inclusive culture that is welcoming to very forward thinking and very successful women executives, women leaders.
Patterson: Often the technology industry, and famously several venture capital firms, have expressed a sentiment of well, I don't want to decrease my quality to increase diversity. Why is this kind of a specious premise?
Saklani: First of all, I think that there is a misunderstanding that to have a successful technology company all you need are quote-unquote hardcore engineers and hardcore coders, and because 80% of the people who get degrees in those areas happen to be of a certain gender, therefore the workplace has to be all skewed towards a certain gender.
First of all, there are amazing women programmers, there are amazing women engineers, technologists, et cetera. But also the reality is to have a well-rounded technology company you need great marketers. You need great customer support people. You need people who are good IQ and EQ leaders. And the last time I checked, those things weren't specific to one gender, or those skillsets weren't specific to one gender.
So I think it's a specious argument unless you think that having a successful technology company is just having a bunch of people who have bachelors of engineering in computer science.
SEE: IT leader's guide to achieving workplace diversity (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Patterson: And of course women can make fantastic engineers as well. We are two men discussing the topic of diversity, but how can men, especially male leaders in organizations, be good allies and help increase diversity?
Saklani: I think first it has to be genuine. You have to genuinely look at your own mind and say do I have an unconscious bias that because somebody is of a certain background or a certain gender they're not going to be good at a certain type of activity or a certain type of skill, and that bias exists. I think that bias exists in our society, it exists in our industry, so you have to really say hey, wait a second, that's unreasonable. I shouldn't have ... You know, just like you wouldn't say, "Oh, a person who's short wouldn't be good as the head of marketing or the head of engineering." It doesn't make any sense to have that same type of bias when it comes to gender.
Then early on in your company, when you do your hiring you have to really be gender blind in the hiring. One thing I've seen consistently with companies is they oftentimes mistake having an inclusive company culture with a culture that promotes fun. Fun is great, but fun does not make a holistic or successful company culture. So if you just confuse fun with culture, you may just hire a bunch of people who are like your friends in real life, the people you hang out with.
The reality is that you have to build a company culture if you really want to scale the business over time that's going to be inclusive to people from a variety of different backgrounds and a variety of different genders. I think early on you have to as leaders get rid of that unconscious bias. If you do that, you're very likely early on in your journey to suddenly have an inclusive team.
Once you have an inclusive team, you're signaling to all people that hey, wait a second, this is a company that's inclusive. In our case, we were very lucky early on to have some of the great leaders generated on our team who happen to be women, and other women when they came to be interviewed would say wow, I want to work in a company with people like this.
Patterson: Great advice from Praful Saklani of Pramata. What advice or tips do you have for anyone who would like to not just increase diversity, but actually increase the diversity of thought in the product that they are building or the way they interact with other team members or the way they interact with even business partners?
Saklani: Yeah, so as an entrepreneur and as somebody who's been a founder in multiple products or technology startups, I think a good rule of thumb is get out of your bubble, and get out of your bubble early and often. That means don't spend all your time in R&D. Go out and actually talk to potential customers of all backgrounds, not just the people that you went to college with, okay?
It's the same thing when it comes to employees, is go and talk to your friends, talk to your colleagues who have been part of the inclusive work efforts and work cultures. If you feel like your work culture is skewing towards a certain kind of ethos, or what they call the bro culture, then go talk to friends of yours who are women or who don't come from a bro culture and ask them, "Hey, what do you think that I'm doing well at?" You have to get out of group think if it's reinforcing the pattern you already have.
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