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The need for more diversity in Silicon Valley is no secret — recent demographic reports from large companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter show large gaps in both gender and ethnicity. Fortunately, companies are beginning to recognize the benefits of a diverse workforce, hiring HR managers, program leads and recruiters with the specific task of increasing inclusion initiatives.

“A wealth of research shows that diverse teams perform better than non-diverse teams," says Carissa Romero, a partner at Paradigm, a startup that helps companies implement diversity initiatives. "They make better decisions and solve problems more effectively. Focusing on creating a diverse and inclusive workplace isn't just the right thing to do; it's also a smart business decision."

To learn more about the rise of diversity-focused roles, we spoke with three individuals who have committed their careers to inclusion. Here they discuss their everyday challenges, current initiatives and best advice for other companies dedicated to increasing diversity.

Carissa Romero

Title: Partner at Paradigm, a startup that helps companies implement diversity initiatives

How did you get involved with diversity and inclusion? I was attracted to Paradigm because they were drawing on a wealth of research in social psychology to help companies design diversity and inclusion strategies. I believe that I can make an impact on an issue that's both personal to me — I am a Puerto Rican woman — and that I'm deeply passionate about.

What's the most challenging part about your job? One big challenge that we see many companies face is their reliance on referral hiring. Because companies' workforces are often homogeneous, if they don't find other ways to source candidates, it's going to be hard for companies to create more diverse teams.

What current diversity initiative or past project are you most excited about? Inclusion Labs is a partnership with Paradigm and Pinterest that will allow us to conduct workforce research to identify and better understand barriers to diversity, test new strategies for addressing these barriers, and share publicly as much information as we can about what we're learning.

What qualities make for a successful diversity initiative? A successful diversity and inclusion initiative is one that is data-driven, draws on what we know from social science research and is context-specific.

Tina Sandford

Title: Managing Director of International Field Delivery at Silicon Valley Bank (SVB)

How did you get involved with diversity and inclusion? Last June, we ran an inclusion and diversity survey, held focus groups and did a series of interviews. I've had the wonderful opportunity to lead this initiative.

What's the most challenging part about your job? Balancing the demand and drive of those who want to get things done quickly versus those who are more conservative. We want to go slow in order to go fast; to do this, we have to be thoughtful and recognize that everyone has a different point of view.

What qualities make for a successful diversity initiative? In a general sense, ask: What are you trying to achieve and how does that relate to your organization and employee base? It's not one-size-fits-all.

What is your best piece of advice for companies trying to improve diversity? Keep an open mind and realize that everyone has a different perspective and values that drive where they come from.

Melanie Goldstein

Title: Diversity and Inclusion Product Manager at Kanjoya, a start-up specializing in emotion-based intuitive analytics

What's the most challenging part about your job? Through our technology, I am constantly faced with the reality that unconscious bias is not a myth; rather, it exists everywhere, is culturally ingrained and can impact people's careers.

What current diversity initiative or past project are you most excited about? We help clients understand precisely where and how bias is manifesting in their organizations. Armed with metrics for unconscious bias, our clients can convince even the most ardent skeptics that there is a problem, take data-driven action and make diversity an organization-wide commitment.

What qualities make for a successful diversity initiative? Successful diversity initiatives have to be data-driven and led by a commitment to transparency. The ability to track and measure progress over time is also crucial.

What is your best piece of advice for companies trying to improve diversity? It's imperative to address the entire employee lifecycle. To make lasting diversity improvements requires a continuous process of iteration and experimentation.

Photo: Creative Commons