At the office, diversity works, but shorter workweeks may not

At SXSW, company execs say it takes serious effort to recruit minorities, but the results make stronger and more creative teams

piazza diversity hiring
Credit: Thinkstock

AUSTIN -- Achieving a diversified staff in a tech firm can't be done casually, but offering prospective employees a shorter workweek may or may not entice them to sign up.

That was the message from two employment-related conferences at SXSW over the weekend, titled Why Diversity Can't Be Built in a Day and The End of the Work-More Culture?

Related: SXSW: Obama touts tech, others examine pitfalls

As for building diversity, "people say it should be everybody's job, but that hasn't worked — there's no explicit focus," said Abby Maldonado, diversity programs specialist at Pinterest. "There's an expertise to this work that people don't recognize." She added that managers must be held accountable for achieving inclusive hiring goals, typically by making it part of their performance reviews.

"Diverse teams are stronger and more creative — that is the accountability. That is better than enforcement," she said.

A diversity specialist must also look at the organization's hiring funnel to see how names are fed into it and where they fall out, Maldonado said. "We found we were not getting enough names [of diverse prospects] into the funnel because the campuses we went to were not diverse," she said.

When executives say they can't "lower the bar" for diversity hiring, "I just say, 'Really?' " said Rachel Williams, Yelp's head of diversity.

"I ask, 'Did you lower the bar to hire me?' It's fun to see their faces after that," said Dominique DeGuzman, diversity co-chairwoman at Twilio.

"What bar?" countered Maldonado. "They can't define it."

Knowing how prospects are being identified is important, Williams said. "If you are hiring through referrals, you will see people who all look the same. You cannot hire 80 to 90 percent referrals and expect change."

"But you can never move completely away from referrals," added Maldonado. "We ask people to look outside the people they would normally refer, and refer those other people, explicitly asking for women and people of color."

Work-life balance

Meanwhile, millennials profess to want a better work-life balance, and experience shows that employees who are not overworked are more focused and creative, have better ideas and generate less turnover, noted Christian Blauvet, deputy culture editor for BBC.com.

He said that 43% of companies have begun to offer shorter workweeks to some of their employees, and 10% to most of their employees, sometimes with reduced pay but sometimes at full pay. Meanwhile, a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found that millennials liked work but not work culture, seeing work as a thing rather than a place.

But he also noted that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's labor camps in the 1930s calculated just how little prisoners could be fed for the maximum amount of work, and society has since seemed to internalize that approach, with people seeking to optimize themselves. Meanwhile, Americans now work four more weeks a year than they did in 1979, he added.

Given the chance, many millennials will choose to make the most money they can, while a shorter workweek could be a source of stress for a workaholic who needs something to fill his or her life, Blauvet said.

Next: Algorithms and experiments make strange bedfellows at SXSW.

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