Managed Coder: On Diversity
Writing software is hard, particularly when schedules keep programmers “nose to the grindstone”; every so often, it’s important to take a breather and look around the world and discover what we can find-ironically, what we find can often help us write software better.
Diversity in the workplace, declare the HR websites, is a good thing, crucial to innovation. Does this hold for programming languages?
While I was in college at the University of California, Davis, diversity was a hot topic among the students. In fact, one year, a half-dozen students decided that the Latino Studies department wasn’t diverse enough (apparently, if memory serves, all three professors were of Caucasian descent), and staged a hunger strike “for diversity”.
I remember asking, as the hunger strike neared its second day, why diversity was a good thing. I also remember half the student body (it seemed) calling me an “insensitive racist chauvinist pig.” Despite all the words being hurled my way, I never actually heard an objective answer.
“Everybody knows” that diversity in the workforce is good. “Everybody knows” that diversity in a student body is good. What I can’t figure out, however, is how it makes things good-what about a diverse workforce, exactly, leads to benefits not felt in a homogeneous one?
To the Internet!
Doing a quick Google search on “Diversity” leads to more of the same chest-beating “It just is” kinds of articles (and a couple of college message boards), but one article (http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/1200-workforce-diversity-good-for-business.html) actually offers up a rationale: diversity apparently, according to a Forbes study, leads to better innovation, which in turn leads to better competitiveness:
“Companies have realized that diversity and inclusion are no longer separate from other parts of the business,” said Stuart Feil, editorial director of Forbes Insights. “Organizations in the survey understand that different experiences and different perspectives build the foundation necessary to compete on a global scale.”
Although no articles I’ve found make the causation clear, the correlation between a diverse workplace and innovation (and thus competitive strength) seems to be relatively clear, at least according the study cited. One of the key elements seems to be around attracting and retaining talented employees, which (to my mind) makes sense-programming is a pretty merit-based industry, when you think about it, given that neither the compilers nor the servers really care about the age, gender, ethnicity, political bias, or any other distinctive characteristics of the programmers involved.
(It should be pointed out, however, that programs sometimes bring their own biases to the game. For years, UNIX developers could feel a 60’s vibe by trying to use their build tool; typing “make love” at the command line produced a result “not war?”)
So if diversity at the racial and ethnic level is an important part of creating a competitive and innovative workforce, then why do programming shops continually stress that they are a monocultural place to work?
Why is “We are a C# shop, just a C# shop, and we will always be a C# shop (until Microsoft kills it, anyway)” somehow a good thing?