Qualcomm’s chief diversity officer Vicki Mealer-Burke (pictured) spoke to Mobile World Live about variegation in the technology industry, why it’s good for business and what steps companies can take to support it in the workplace.
The tech industry has been criticised for a lack of diversity, but change seems slow. What do you think is standing in the way?
Over the last decade, the tech industry has stepped up and been more public and outspoken about its commitment to lead by example and increase the diversity of its workforce. However, progress on this issue is much broader than a simply metrics of team composition. We must create a culture of inclusion.
What elements of corporate culture need to change to encourage diversity?
Diversity shouldn’t be encouraged, it should be demanded as a critical business imperative. It’s not a nice to have or some sort of compliance issue. The data is clear that companies that have collaborative, respectful and inclusive cultures are innovating and executing better, resulting in improved top- and bottom-line financial results.
I recently heard a great way to sum it up: the idea you don’t have is from the voice you haven’t heard.
If employees don’t feel empowered to speak up, when they have an idea or see something wrong, that will impact the company one way or the other.
What have you found to be the best way to approach the sometimes difficult and uncomfortable conversations that need to be had to effect change?
My approach has always been to simply jump-in and start the conversation. Most times, that means I listen and ask questions first to make sure I have a full understanding of all viewpoints around an issue. As leaders, we need to start getting more comfortable being uncomfortable. Have courageous conversations that start from a baseline of humility, honesty, curiosity and respect.
If we start the blame game of trying to figure out who is responsible for the problem, everyone will retreat into the safety of their comfort zone. When these battle lines are falsely drawn, there will be no winners.
Are there any statistics that show how increased diversity can make a business better?
Yes, I’ll cite a few highlights from a comprehensive review of current research that was conducted by the National Center for Women in Information Technology. This published research, What is the impact of gender diversity on technology business performance? analysed 2,360 global companies in variety of technical industries [and] found that companies with gender-diverse management teams showed superior return on equity, debt/equity ratios, price/equity ratios and average growth.
Additionally, an investigation of 500 US businesses found that companies with more race and gender diverse teams had higher sales revenue, more customers, greater market share and greater profits than did less diverse companies.
In McKinsey’s latest Delivering Through Diversity report it noted: “Companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. For ethnic/cultural diversity, top-quartile companies were 33 per cent more likely to outperform on profitability.”
Increasing diversity isn’t just the right thing to do, it is also a financial advantage.
Why is diversity important in the development of technologies like 5G?
This is a great question. When you build technology, you typically have a user or a use case in mind. When you have diverse teams creating technology, you develop for a much larger set of users and use cases because those voices are represented on your teams. When those discussions and brainstorms take place early and often, your company has the best chance of not missing something big. Companies can’t afford to miss the opportunities that this new technology platform will bring, and they’ll have the best chance of capitalising with diverse and inclusive teams.
This article was originally due to appear in the MWC20 Barcelona Show Daily newspapers as part of our conference speaker coverage. Due to the cancellation of the event we are instead publishing them online.Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back