Why should diversity matter to Developers?

Developer Support

David S. Lipien, a Director in Microsoft’s Premier Services, collaborated with Stephen Barnes and Katie Konow to highlight the value of team diversity in application development.  They are all part of the Enterprise Services Business, enabling clients to leverage IT for business success in the cloud and on the ground.


Do you operate in or lead a team of ME?

In Software Development, Delivery Leaders and Individual Contributors are under more pressure than ever to innovate, drive change, deliver on time, on budget and follow compliance standards – all while obsessing over stakeholders and clients. Can you really do that with a team all like you?

Diversity and inclusion is critical to meet or exceed business objectives and ultimately allow the leaders and the teams they lead to keep the customer at the center of delivery efforts.

In the McKinsey Study Diversity Matters they revealed “a statistically significant connection between diversity and financial performance.” Their finding went on to further show “The companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to have financial returns that were above their national industry median, and the companies in the top quartile for racial/ethnic diversity were 30 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.

Although there is a lot more focus, academic research and media coverage on the topic of diversity and inclusion, there is still a lot of work to do. The Project Management Institute (PMI) is a consistently current resource for research articles, including diversity, however the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge, Fifth Edition) has less than a half dozen references to diversity or similar derivatives. As a profession, we need to be much more deliberate in our development of standards and approaches to delivery to make sure all three delivery components of people, process and technology are inclusive and diverse in their nature. We also need to ensure that we are deliberate about providing direction, examples, tools and techniques to delivery with diversity and an inclusive mindset.

During my time as a Professional Services Director, Delivery Manager, Software Release Manager, Project Manager, Analyst and Developer, I have seen first-hand the positive results a diverse and inclusive team can have on creating a high performing team. As I look at teams and potential candidates to recruit, I like to apply the simple acronym of Diversity, Inclusion and Deliver (DID).

  • Diversity does not have to be about visible diversity (race, age, gender, language, etc.); it can be about invisible diversity (profession, geographic location, income, education, family structure, etc.) too. A diverse perspective is critical to challenging the norms and helping better understand your stakeholders and customers who are ultimately not all like YOU.
  • Inclusion – listening, communicating, a willingness to ask for the prospective of others, being transparent, knowing your unconscious biases are just some the things to be mindful of when be inclusive. At Microsoft, as noted in the Wall Street Journal all employees participate in an annual training program on unconscious bias. Having diversity without inclusion really does not provide the full return.
  • Deliver – can the team or candidate deliver? A track record of success and demonstration of learning from failure are key things to look for. Past performance is not an indicator of future success as they say with stock, but being willing and able to learn and grow is a great indicator of success.

Some of my lessons learned:

  1. Review your job descriptions. Organize a diverse team with different backgrounds and experiences to review or author your job descriptions. The team’s diversity and different experiences will reflect through the writing and it will appeal to a larger group of candidates and breaking down the blocker as noted in the HBR article of I will not apply unless I am 100% qualified. Clear it of any biases and tones. Women earned 57.3% of bachelor’s degrees in all fields in 2011 but received far fewer in the computer sciences (18.2%); a job description statement like “BS in Computer Science required” immediately alienates large portion of that population.
  2. Make lists of professional meetings and professional societies that share your views on diversity and inclusion and be an active participant. Encourage your team and social network to expand their perspective.
  3. Consider unconscious bias affects in workplace feedback. Although the research is still evolving, a team at Stanford analyzing performance review data noted in the Wall Street Journal, women had “about half as many references to their technical expertise than men.”
  4. Never miss an opportunity at a team meeting or even casual conversation to ask about or bring awareness to a heritage month or equivalent.
  5. Attach to corporate initiatives or executive agendas related to diversity and inclusion. McKinsey reported that “in many organizations, senior leadership has only recently committed itself to addressing gender equality.” In the same report “gender diversity was a top-ten strategic priority for only 28 percent of companies in 2010—and for a third of companies, it was not on the strategic agenda at all.”
  6. Network across borders, educate teammates about globalization and openly discuss differences and workplace norms.
  7. Do something. Start small, go big, but do something. A mentor gave me great advice: make an effort to attend diversity group events even when you are not a member of the group. For me, it was attending a breakfast for women in my organization.

Even if it requires you to think differently or for you to invest more of your personal human capital, apply the DID approach or something similar. Incorporate it into your personal brand and delivery approach. You will see the return on investment. I know I have!


Premier Support for Developers provides strategic technology guidance, critical support coverage, and a range of essential services to help teams optimize development lifecycles and improve software quality.  Contact your Application Development Manager (ADM) or email us to learn more about what we can do for you.


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