Why Are Tech Companies *Really* Looking For Heads Of Diversity?

If job openings are any indication, it looks like tech companies aren’t just blowing smoke when they talk about wanting to improve diversity. Airbnb, Asana, Autodesk and Dropbox, for example, are currently seeking to hire heads of diversity.

In what Airbnb calls “a big job,” the company is looking for a head of diversity and belonging “who is creative enough to help Airbnb become an authentically diverse and inclusive company and community by bringing our “Belong Anywhere” mission to life in our offices, on our platform, and beyond.” Meanwhile, Dropbox is seeking a head of diversity to “develop specific strategies to embed diversity and inclusion into Dropbox’s day-to-day operations, practices, processes and employee development.” But what are the motives behind these job openings?

“Is that really a signal from the leadership that they’re behind whatever strategies that person brings to the table?” Yelp Head of Diversity Rachel Williams, who has been at that position for almost a year, wondered in an interview with TechCrunch. “I took the job at Yelp because that’s what that meant.”

In the case of Dropbox, the move to hire a head of diversity is probably just a reaction to the drama that ensued when former Dropbox employee Angelica Coleman’s claim that the company did not foster a supportive and inclusive environment. Dropbox declined to comment when asked about the listing.

Here’s what Coleman wrote on Facebook back in June:

I left Dropbox because as a black woman working on bettering myself, the tech industry doesn’t give a shit. Even with the skills to do more, if I had stayed at Dropbox, I would have always had the submissive role of serving others and never calling the shots. Why? Because a white manager didn’t want to see me do more.

In the event that I’m way too cynical, I touched base with Paradigm CEO Joelle Emerson, the startup founder working with companies like Pinterest, Airbnb and Asana on diversity, to see what she has to say about it.

“I think companies are doing this because they’re recognizing that managing diversity and inclusion efforts is a full time job, and not something that they should ask employees to do in their spare time.” Emerson wrote in an email to TechCrunch. “When this happens, it tends to be employees from underrepresented backgrounds who are tasked with taking time away from their core responsibilities to also focus on diversity efforts, which may not be how they’d like to spend their time.”

Larger tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, Square, Pinterest, Yelp, Apple and Google already have diversity leads in place.

“For me, the main ingredient is someone who actually comes from an underrepresented group, and that there’s passion and support to do the work,” Williams said.

Williams encourages these companies to look outside of the box when recruiting for and hiring a head of diversity. That could mean, for example, seeking out people who didn’t attend Ivy League colleges or obtain a master’s degree. She also recommends potentially hiring from within the company.

Once these companies hire a head of diversity, it’s important to make sure that the work isn’t limited to just human resources, Emerson said.

“Instead, the leader should facilitate and support diversity and inclusion efforts throughout the organization,” Emerson said. “Similarly, organizations should not ‘check a box’ once they hire for this role and assume that all of their diversity challenges will be naturally resolved.”