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Tech leaders discuss diversity and inclusion at the GeekWire Summit. Left to right: Zillow COO Amy Bohutinsky; Effenus Henderson, co-director of the Institute of Sustainable Diversity & Inclusion; Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz; and Eric Osborne, co-founder of HERE Seattle. (GeekWire Photos / Dan DeLong)

For tech organizations trying to diversify, there’s an obvious go-to: invest in a more diverse pipeline.

“For me, and I think for many, many, many companies, the pipeline problem feels easier because it’s outside you,” said Moz CEO Sarah Bird at a panel on diversity in tech at the 2017 GeekWire Summit.

But working on a diverse pipeline is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to improving diversity in tech.

“I think the hardest work of inclusion is inside your own company, and your own teams and between humans,” said Bird. “How do you have highly functional, collaborative conversations about race, about sexism, about how you treat people? That’s really, really hard work.”

Indeed, the discussion around diversity and inclusion is a tough one, and many top tech leaders are struggling at how to best address the complexities.

Just this weekend, Apple’s VP of Diversity & Inclusion, Denise Young Smith, apologized for remarks she made at a conference in Columbia in which she said “there can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blonde men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation.”

In 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella apologized over remarks he made about women asking for raises, in which he suggested that women were better off having faith that the system would properly compensate them over time.

Tech juggernauts like Microsoft, Google, Intel and Apple are trying to diversify their workforces, publishing reports on their efforts. But it’s obvious that the industry is still very much struggling with the issue, one of reasons why the diversity & inclusion panel at the GeekWire Summit was so timely. Watch the full session in the video below:

The first tip from the panelists: Diversify your network.

Eric Osborne, co-founder of advocacy group HERE Seattle, encouraged tech leaders to break out of their social bubbles by finding other communities to join.

“Get involved outside your communities,” said Osborne. “We hear things from other sources and the media and all this stuff, and we get a little bit afraid of other groups,” but going out and meeting people different from those we’re used to can break down those stereotypes, he said.

One example he shared was his experience with the LGBTQ community. Osborne said that, until he started work with HERE, he had never really met anyone from the transgender community.

But during a panel on diversity that Osborne sat on, he heard a transgender person talking about using publlic bathrooms and how uncomfortable and unsafe it made them feel.

“It was great for me to hear that because I had literally never thought about it,” Osborne said.

The diversity & inclusion panel on Day 2 of the GeekWire Summit 2017 at Sheraton Seattle on Wednesday, October 11, 2017. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

But there’s always a chance to learn.

“If you care about diversity and inclusion, actually get out and be part of some communities outside of your own,” Osborne said. “If you continue to have the same people around you reinforcing the same things, you never really get out and actually experience what true America is.”

Making connections with other communities can also help diversify social networks, so candidates recommended for jobs are more likely to be diverse.

Bird also offered concrete ways to create a more inclusive culture, without disrupting the day-to-day work inside a company.

So, the second tip: Call out inappropriate behavior.

Bird said it’s difficult to know how to handle a sensitive situation without getting mired in a complicated and often divisive discussion.

“This is one you can practice saying,” she said: “Hey, we don’t do that here.”

“When you can say to someone: ‘oh, we don’t do those things here…’ You don’t have to have the conversation about: Are you right? Did you mean it?” she said.

Zillow Group COO Amy Bohutinsky at the diversity & inclusion panel at the GeekWire Summit.

And the third tip: Leaders, speak up!

Bird said corporate leaders should address the issues that have impacts on communities at their companies, citing the national discussions about women experiencing sexual harassment at work and police brutality towards people of color.

“You can’t say, ‘I want more people of color,’ [yet have] radio silence when they’re being killed,” Bird said. “The trust isn’t there if you just say those words.”

“We need to step in proudly and confidently and say, ‘hey, those are not our values here. In my company, this is what we value, and we protect everyone’s right to express themselves and to be safe. We’ve got to step into that, rather than the mythology that leaders can’t bring anything that smells political into the office,” she said.

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