The tech industry’s role as the engine of innovation in the modern economy could be an overall force for societal good — if it had inclusion at the center of everything. Author Lauren Neal explores what DEI means in the tech industry and how empathetic leadership, modeled by companies like Salesforce and Microsoft, holds the key.
In the fast-paced world of technology, the importance of inclusion cannot be overstated. The tech industry is a powerhouse of innovation, influencing every aspect of our lives. However, for innovation to truly thrive and benefit society as a whole, it must be inclusive. Enter empathetic leadership, a style of management that prioritizes understanding, compassion and inclusivity.
Tech inclusion isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a necessity. Technology touches every corner of our lives, from the way we communicate to the way we work and access information. Tech companies have a profound influence on our society, and their products and services should reflect the diversity and needs of the global population.
Despite this, the tech industry has long struggled with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). There are gender and racial disparities, not to mention a lack of access to tech opportunities for under-recognised communities. This exclusion not only perpetuates social injustice but also stifles innovation. When a homogenous group dominates a field, it limits the range of perspectives and ideas.
What is empathetic leadership?
Empathetic leadership is a response to these challenges. It is a leadership style that emphasizes empathy, understanding and compassion. These leaders actively listen to their team members’ feelings, and perspectives and work to promote an inclusive and supportive work environment.
Key characteristics of empathetic leadership include:
- Active listening: Empathetic leaders listen without judgment and seek to understand the experiences and concerns of their team members.
- Open communication: They create an environment where team members feel psychologically safe to share their thoughts and ideas.
- Support and advocacy: Empathetic leaders actively support the growth and development of their team members, advocating for their needs and concerns.
- Inclusivity: They actively promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.
Empathy in tech
The tech industry, like any other, is populated with people who have their own unique experiences, challenges and needs. Empathetic leadership recognises this and leverages empathy to create a more inclusive industry.
Let’s delve into a couple of case studies to illustrate how this style of leadership can shape the future of inclusion in tech.
Salesforce, a cloud-based software company, has shown the tech world the power of empathetic leadership and has made significant strides in promoting DEI. Under the leadership of CEO Marc Benioff, the company has taken a proactive stance on diversity and inclusion by focusing on closing the gender pay gap, diversifying its workforce and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights. It conducted a comprehensive salary assessment to ensure equal pay for equal work and made significant investments in employee resource groups, focusing on diverse communities and their needs.
The result? Salesforce has not only improved its diversity metrics but has also seen increased innovation and profitability. Employees who feel valued and included are more engaged and motivated to contribute to the company’s success.
Under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella, another champion of empathetic leadership, Microsoft has adopted a growth mindset that encourages all employees to speak up and share their ideas. Leadership promotes a culture of empathy, actively seeking input from all employees and using it to drive company initiatives. Microsoft’s emphasis on inclusion has led to the creation of products like the Xbox Adaptive Controller, designed to meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility. This product’s success is a testament to how empathetic leadership can lead to innovative solutions that benefit a broader range of users, and thus has contributed to Microsoft’s ongoing success.
Overcoming obstacles to empathetic leadership
While empathetic leadership holds great promise, it is not without its challenges. Implementing this style of leadership in the tech industry can be met with resistance, particularly in more traditional corporate cultures. It requires a fundamental shift in the way leaders approach their roles and their relationships with employees.
To overcome these obstacles, leaders in tech must:
- Lead by example: Leaders must embody empathetic values in their own behaviors, setting the standard for the entire organization.
- Provide training: Offering training and resources on empathy and inclusion can help employees and leaders alike to better understand and practice this leadership style.
- Measure and track progress: Regularly assess and report on the company’s DEI efforts to ensure ongoing improvement.
The future of tech inclusion
The future of tech inclusion lies in the hands of forward-thinking leaders. As we’ve seen from companies like Salesforce and Microsoft, when leaders prioritize empathy, everyone benefits. Companies, whether in tech or other industries, who embrace empathetic leadership will be better positioned to create innovative solutions that cater to diverse audiences.
By fostering inclusive workplaces and products, these companies can help bridge the digital divide and ensure that technology serves the needs of everyone. The future of tech inclusion is bright when empathetic leadership becomes the norm rather than the exception.