There’s been a lot of talk about diversity in the tech industry. But despite all the hand wringing, not a lot seems to be changing. That’s why it was so refreshing to hear database architect and entrepreneur Laine Campbell, co-founder of data consulting and managed services firm Pythian, offer an extensive set of best practices at last week’s Velocity conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

It’s definitely worth your time to check out Campbell’s slides and watch the video (below) of her funny yet heartfelt presentation “Recruiting for Diversity in Tech,” but it also seemed helpful to call out some of her shared language and actionable ideas to bring people in.

Laine Campbell

A goal unto itself

First off, here are Campbell’s working rules for diversity:

  • Diversity is a goal unto itself.
  • Assume good intentions.
  • Create a culture of forgiveness.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up, call out, and engage.
  • Recognize privilege and implicit biases as real (that which “causes our behavior to sometimes not be great, even if our intentions are good”).

Two-dimensional diversity

Campbell separates diversity into two dimensions. Inherent Diversity includes factors such as nationality, religious background, gender, age, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, socio-economic background, and disability, while Acquired Diversity covers cultural fluency, generational savvy, gender smarts, technological literacy, cross-functional knowledge, global experience, military experience, and language skills.

She cites statistics from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) showing that while just 22% of employees work for companies that embody both dimensions, employees at companies with two-dimensional diversity are 75% more likely to have a marketable idea implemented, publicly traded organizations with 2D diversity are 70% more likely to capture a new market, and publicly traded organizations with 2D diversity are 45% more likely to improve market share. In addition, she said, normalizing salaries frees up capital, which allows for bigger teams, more code pushes, and greater competitiveness.

2D diversity slide

The meritocracy is broken

Perhaps most tellingly, Campbell directly challenged the idea that the tech industry (and particularly the open-source community) is a meritocracy. “The meritocracy is broken,” she said, “It’s bullshit.”

In reality, hiring choices are often “ruled by implicit bias” that Campbell described as generally unconscious and non-malicious but not necessarily tied to skills and ability. Creating a true meritocracy, Campbell said, requires getting everyone to the party, eliminating the day-to-day beat downs and individual and system bias experienced by many populations.

Making it work

“Your first and constant job is recruiting,” Campbell said, and you will not succeed without changing the recruiting mode. “Is HR going to do it for you? No.”

You have to create goals and then track and enforce them. 50% of applicants must be women, she said, while 25% of applicants must be African American or Latino. Critically, she suggests that organizations let their teams drive innovation for meeting these goals. Techniques can include building partnerships with organizations dedicated to bringing underserved populations to the job market, supporting meetups and online groups on LinkedIn and elsewhere, and using day-to-day networking, connections, and outreach efforts.

To reduce implicit hiring bias, Campbell suggests eliminating names and pictures from applications, online handles, and technical test results. Balanced interview teams can also make a difference—if you don’t have them, she notes, you can contract them out—and it helps to regularly review test questions and situations for bias.

Hiring is just the beginning

Still, Campbell acknowledged that this won’t be enough for most organizations, especially when it comes to senior staff. That means they need to mentor and build their own leaders by recruiting and hiring junior folks with the right soft skills and aptitude to grow into leadership roles.

Inside the organization, she added, it’s important to be proud of the diversity standards, have a code of conduct, and enforce it. The code should define acceptable behavior, be inclusive and recognize those you want to feel welcomed, and encourage group participation and self-policing. That code should go everywhere, Campbell said—on your website, in marketing materials, and in email signatures.

This may sound like a lot of work, but Campbell said it doesn’t mean you need be overly sensitive. “It is all about intention,” she said. Ideally, hatred, insults, and anger get shut down while mistakes are forgiven and education is encouraged.

After all, this is not about lowering standards, but creating new avenues for success.


Watch Laine’s full Velocity presentation below:


Crayon image courtesy of'

Fredric Paul (aka The Freditor) is Editor in Chief for New Relic. He's an award-winning writer, editor, and content strategist who has held senior editorial positions at ReadWrite,, InformationWeek, CNET, Electronic Entertainment, PC World, and PC|Computing. His writing has appeared in MIT Technology Review, Omni, Conde Nast Traveler, and Newsweek, among other places. View posts by .

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