Why diversity targets don't always solve the problem

Many big businesses have introduced targets or quotas to increase diversity. But does meeting a certain number or percentage mean that a business is truly diverse or is there more to it than that?

When we caught up with Danae Ringelmann, co-founder of Indiegogo, at The Next Web Europe she argued that targets or quotas alone simply aren’t enough.

“I think any kind of targets set for the company, if there's not any effort around evolving their culture to not just embrace that diversity but to leverage that diversity into a productive environment where ideas are welcomed and used and put forward then it will fail,” she says. “While targets are maybe helpful for getting action to start, it will fail if you don't look at what needs to happen culturally.”

The problem, she says, with attracting a diverse workforce to meet targets is that “when they get there it’s an environment that they don’t want to work in, or it’s an environment that’s not welcoming to what they can provide and no-one wants to feel like a square peg in a round hole”.

She adds: “It’s a two-sided coin. You can’t just put in targets and not look at the culture internally. Quotas are tough.”

People like to be impactful, if there are barriers to making an impact then they’ll go somewhere else

However, Ringelmann says that by looking at the culture and making the necessary changes can make a huge difference. “When you’ve built a culture where people can bring their different ideas (because they are a diverse people) and it’s heard and embraced and even tested, that’s what keeps people around. They realise it’s a place they can contribute. It’s pretty simple. If they are seeing the same people are heard and promoted all the time, it’s not a place for them so they’ll leave. That’s a logical decision. People like to be impactful, if there are barriers to making an impact then they’ll go somewhere else.”

So how does Indiegogo make sure that their culture welcomes and attracts a diverse workforce? It’s all about values, Ringelmann says. 

“Our values tell our people that this is their licence to be this way,” she explains. “Tell your ideas, share them, listen, that’s who we are.”

Indiegogo has recently refreshed their values in a collaborative project that Ringelmann says was the biggest she’s ever organised with 39 people feeding in ideas about what the new values should look like. “Actually we had a moment in one of those meetings, I was trying to insure that all the representatives were as diverse as possible and we didn’t have a great racial diversity in one meeting and someone in the group called it out,” she says. “They were like ‘there’s not enough diversity here, we can’t make a decision on this today.’ So that got us a little delayed, but ensuring the diversity throughout the meetings was important and it got us to a result in the end.”

However, it’s not just businesses that have diversity issues, Ringelmann points out. As a woman working in the tech industry, she’s experienced first-hand the lack of diversity and agrees that sometimes having quotas or targets for women speakers at events can be helpful. “But it depends on the execution,” she says, “the last thing I want to hear when I get invited to things is, ‘You’re a woman! We’d love to have you speak.’

“With those invitations, clearly my gender is more important than what they think about what I speak about and how relevant it is to their audience and how helpful I can be to that audience. And consequently I’m much less likely to accept that invitation. It’s almost an unintentional insult. It’s basically saying, ‘You don’t have to be good, you can just be a woman.’”

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