Beryl Nelson: The Data on Diversity: It’s Not Just About Being Fair

Google puts a lot of energy into diversity. Why should it matter whether you work in a team in which people all think the same way, or have different life experiences and points of view? And what can you personally do to improve diversity at Google?

Beryl will open her talk with some of the wealth of research and data available about the value of a diverse team composition in terms of financial results and innovation. However, making a diverse team effective is not simple. The second part of the talk will include data relating to barriers to the effectiveness of diverse teams. One of the most difficult problems to deal with, and to measure, is unconscious bias. Why is it that 52% of Fortune 500 CEOs are over 6 feet tall (182.8 cm), and about a third are over 6 feet 2 inches (187.8 cm)? Imaginative researchers have found statistical methods that can measure unconscious bias and other barriers to effectiveness. People who are aware of these barriers can find ways to overcome them, as Beryl will show with a few examples. Finally, the talk will also focus on recommendations to engineers on what they can personally do to improve the diversity of teams, and the effectiveness of diverse teams.

A more formal version of the same essay is being published as a review article in Communications of the ACM in the November, 2014 issue. Full bibliography.

Beryl worked as a software engineer at Google and her life was cut short by cancer: