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Leslie Miley Insights: If You Want Diverse Employees, Invest in Diverse Communities

Leslie Miley, Director of Engineering at Slack speaking at Tech Inclusion 2016

By Jared Karol

Speaking at last October’s Tech Inclusion Conference in San Francisco, Leslie Miley, (@shaft) Director of Engineering at Slack, joked to a diverse audience about the lack of diversity in tech, “If anything happens today — if there’s a tsunami — it’s going to be really bad for the rest of tech.”

The line drew laughter and applause, as did his comments about tech companies repeating the same half-hearted efforts at improving their diversity — such as partnering with recruiting firms, or doing unconscious bias training — and then complaining that there’s no improvement. “If [diversity] were any other product in tech, it would be killed by now.”

“What happens when you don’t invest in diverse communities?”

It’s funny, as the saying goes, because it’s true. You can’t do the same thing year after year and have no improvement, and keep expecting people to buy into it. While Leslie can see the humorous side of the issue, the question he’s asking is very serious: What happens when you don’t invest in diverse communities?

Leslie Miley, Slack

The answer is also very serious: you don’t get diverse employees. It’s as simple as that. And, it should come as no surprise.

The solution is simple: go to where the diversity is. Instead of opening a new office, say, in Boulder, Colorado — a city that is 88% white and less than 1% black — how about going to Cleveland, or Richmond, VA, or Detroit, or Atlanta? When you go to cities that have diverse populations you can hire people who are diverse because that’s who’s in the community. Then, those people will come back to your headquarters and hire people who look like them because that’s who’s in their networks.

It’s a snowball effect. The people who are in these communities in Richmond and Detroit will end up serving as inspiration and example to the people there, more kids will go to college for computer science and be engaged because they see role models in their communities. Then, the communities will start to invest in themselves because they have high paying jobs. It’s a complete rebuilding process that all starts when tech companies intentionally invest in diverse communities.

This is the only logical way to proceed. As an engineer and as a human being, Leslie is baffled by our inability or unwillingness to solve this problem because, “It’s not that difficult! This is not a hard problem to solve. Tech is making it hard. And I really don’t know why.” Leslie challenges Facebook, Google, and “anyone who is hiring more than five people to look outside your communities.” That’s where we’re going to see change. The pipeline is not the problem.

Since his talk at Tech Inclusion 2016, Leslie has started working with the Venture for America Executive in Residence program, focused on bringing executive talent to growing cities across the country. The goal is to encourage tech investment in people as well as capital in communities with lower costs of living that have the same entrepreneurial spirit seen in Silicon Valley.

“We have the responsibility to reach out to people who do not have the advantage that we do,” Leslie says, “and when we don’t do that, we’ll never change the ratio. We’ll never move the dial.”

Listen to the full talk with Leslie Miley here or below.

About Change Catalyst:

Change Catalyst empowers diverse, inclusive and sustainable tech innovation — through events, consulting, research and training.

Our Tech Inclusion programs explore and develop innovative solutions to tech diversity and inclusion.

Our Startup Ecosystem programs help underrepresented entrepreneurs and investors to start, scale and fund worldchanging businesses.

Change Catalyst is a Certified B Corp, winning the “Best for the World”​ award for community impact in 2014 and “Best in the World”​ overall in 2015.

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The Change Catalyst Team
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