Diversity and Inclusion: What It Is and Why It Matters

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Join our conversation with the Agile community about diversity and inclusion.


Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) has become increasingly important to the Agile community over the past several years.  Indeed, part of Agile Alliance’s mission for many years now has been to ‘create a global and inclusive community’.

So just what is D&I?  Diversity refers to the traits and characteristics that make people unique while inclusion refers to the behaviors and social norms that ensure people feel welcome.  Another way to think about it is this:

Accessibility is being able to get in the building.  Diversity is getting invited to the table.  Inclusion is having a voice at the table.  Belonging is having your voice heard at the table.

During Agile2019, the Agile Tonight event focused on D&I and it was my privilege to speak to our members and present the FACTS about Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter.  The following is a recap of these facts.  Special thanks to NCWIT and their amazing research staff for providing the U.S. data I reference throughout this blog.

The Truth About Team Performance

All things being equal, team performance increases as we change the gender composition of teams to ~ 50% female.  In fact, teams with equal numbers of men and women were more likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge, and fulfill their tasks.  And teams with more women are associated with higher levels of collective intelligence.  Yes, diverse and inclusive teams consistently outperform all other teams!

D&I is Good Business

D&I is also good business.  Higher levels of racial and gender diversity are associated with increased sales, more customers, greater market share, and greater relative profits.  If that’s not compelling enough, consider this:  successful tech start-ups have twice as many women in senior positions.

D&I in the Tech World

Unfortunately, the Tech world lacks diversity.  In 2018, women held only 26% of jobs in computing, DOWN, from 36% in 1991.  This is true despite the fact that 57% of professional occupations in the 2018 U.S. workforce were held by women.  For women of color, the data is much worse.  Only 3% of the computing workforce were African American women, 6% were Asian, and just 2% were Hispanic women in 2018.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, in June 2018 less than 30% of the world’s researchers were women, and in some countries in South and West Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, this number deceases to around 20%.

Unfortunately, we’re losing even the limited diversity that does exist in STEM fields on a global basis.  Some of the reasons include unsupportive work environments, lack of inspiring role models, and sacrifices that outweigh personal gains.  In other words, it’s sometimes really hard to enjoy what you do when you can’t bring your whole self to work every day.  The quit rate for women is twice the quit rate for men.  Said differently, when job satisfaction is low, women and other underrepresented groups begin to look elsewhere to fulfill their careers.

D&I in Higher Education

The higher education statistics are also dismal.  In 2017, 57% of bachelor’s degree recipients were women.  Yet, only 19% of Computer Science engineering degrees (both bachelor’s and PHDs) were granted to women.  It was 37% in 1985!  Between 2000 and 2012, there was a 64% decline in the number of 1st year undergraduate women interested in majoring in Computer Science.  We can and we must do better.  The world cannot afford to leave half of its scientific potential behind.

The Myths of Individual Choice and Meritocracy

Although it may be tempting to conclude that these patterns result from personal choices that men and women make, the research clearly demonstrates that it is NOT this simple.  There is ample research which shows that women experience high levels of dissatisfaction with career prospects, especially women of color.

  • 1 in 3 women in SET fields find themselves ‘stalled’, especially African American women
  • Young women, regardless of race/ethnicity, report feeling stalled more than any other age group
  • Women also find it difficult to advance into leadership roles
  • And tech companies’ boards of directors also show discouraging numbers for women and other underrepresented groups

Keep this in mind as you are tempted to believe in the myths of meritocracy and individual choice.  They do NOT apply to Diversity and Inclusion.

Importantly, despite these facts and other statistics, a 2014 survey found that 29% of CIOs do NOT think women are underrepresented in tech. As a retired lesbian CIO, I find this very troubling.

The Reduction of Subtle Biases and Barriers

We spent the balance of the Agile Tonight event talking about the factors that are critical to improving D&I, primarily focusing on the reduction of subtle biases and barriers.

Implicit bias results from schemas that we ALL develop as we move through society.  These schemas are important for filtering information but they sometimes lead us to filter erroneously, resulting in bias.  Bias plays out in two wayssubtle everyday instances and institutional barriers.

The following are some examples of everyday instances of bias:

  • Microinequities are subtle, cumulative, repeated negative messages that can devalue, discourage, and impair performance. For example, frequently mispronouncing someone’s name.
  • Stereotype threat is the fear or anxiety that our actions will confirm negative stereotypes about an identity group to which we belong such as gender, race, age. For example, someone may say to you, “Great job!  You’re living proof that women are great leaders and really do have technical minds!”
  • Tokenism occurs when only a few employees belong to a particular identity group and they are singled out to represent or relate to that group. For example, “We’re so excited to have you on the team.  We’ve really needed someone like you to help us understand the LGBTQ market.”
  • Gender or color invisibility is when individuals frequently make well-intentioned assertions in an effort to combat prejudice and treat employees equitably. For example, your leader may say to you, “I don’t see color or gender; you do your work well on my team and you’ll succeed!”

Remember, minority groups are not broken; our biases are the problem.  And we all have biases.

Call to Action

What companies gain from attracting and retaining diverse technical talent is that we are able to design and develop technology that is as broad and creative as the people it serves.  D&I matters because we need the community creating technology to be as diverse and inclusive as the community consuming it!  It’s that simple!

I was not only inspired by the engagement and stories that were shared at Agile Tonight, but I was reminded that what is essential is how we respond to the D&I challenges in the Agile community.  In my TEDx talk on ‘Agile is Change’, I spoke about the human side of Agile.  Why?  Because at its core, Agile is about changing human behavior and how we interact with each other.  It’s about uncovering better ways of doing things and helping others to do it.

To respond to this D&I challenge in our community, each of us will have to meet people where they are, listen to understand, and act with courage, humility, curiosity, and compassion.  Working together, we can change what is possible.

I encourage you to join the conversation that we have started about D&I in the Agile community and invite others to join, too.  We have much to learn from each other and need to share our stories and ideas for change.  We took a poll last week of the 30+ people who have already joined the conversation and asked them what they want to get from this group.  The top two responses were, “Help on changing some piece of the Agile world” and “Education about D&I”.  #diversityandinclusionmatter


About the Author


As a senior Executive, I have spent over 30 years leading and advising businesses on designing new operating & engagement models to drive digital transformation and achieve operational excellence and enterprise agility. My passion is 'managing the soft side of technology'© – through the adoption of fundamentally different ways of working, thinking and being.

I am recognized by industry peers for my contributions and thought leadership on the topics of enterprise agility, design thinking, and diversity. I recently delivered my first TED Talk at TEDxSanAntonio on ‘agile is change’. I have been a member of the Agile Alliance’s Supporting Agile Adoption Program since 2014. Additionally, I Co-Chaired the Agile Alliance's Agile Executive Forum in 2013 and 2014.

I am currently a moderator for the Collaborative Gain – a community of senior leaders who help each other lead innovation and customer-centric change.


This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.