Diversity struggles? At Bumble, the innovation team came up with the solution

July, 2022

You don’t always have to look externally for the solution to a problem. Internal teams can also provide a fresh perspective, sees innovation expert Simone van Neerven. ‘The key to success may well lie in breaking through the silos.’

Cognitive diversity

“Why didn’t the CIA see the September 11 attacks coming?” asked Matthew Syed, author of the book ‘Rebel Ideas’, himself. After extensive research, he concluded that the CIA’s strict hiring policy had resulted in hardly any people with adequate knowledge of Islam being employed by the organization. As a result, they were unable to see all the signs and connect the dots leading up to the attacks on that dramatic day.

Dare to deviate from the norm

Every day we read about the importance of diversity in teams. Countless studies show that this generally leads to better results. To come up with the best innovations and solutions, it is often crucial to bring a completely different perspective.

In the 1990s, many villages in Vietnam struggled with a malnourished population. Instead of the usual question of how to feed these people, Jerry Sternin of Save the Children asked why some children from poor families were healthy.

He found that in most villages, families reduced the number of meals when they had limited food. The conventional village wisdom was also to avoid certain foods for reasons of status, and to eliminate feedings during bouts of diarrhea. As a result, families were almost continuously malnourished.

The healthy families had broken with tradition by feeding small, but consistent portions of food many times a day, even to children with diarrhea. They gathered tiny shrimp from the rice fields and harvested sweet potato vegetables, a food that many looked down upon. By deviating from conventional wisdom, these families created alternative behaviors that held the possibility of survival.

Bumble’s innovation team brought a different perspective

In many organizations, it is the HR department that is concerned with getting a more diverse and inclusive workplace. This is especially a struggle in teams where there is typically little diversity, such as in software development where the vast majority of employees are white men. Traditionally, expensive executive search agencies are hired to look for new talent.

The American Bumble, founded in 2014 by Whitney Herd, generally has no issues attracting diverse talent. However, they also did not succeed in getting their tech teams more diverse. Only 14% of these teams were female and the LGBTQ+ percentages were even much lower.

The problem was mainly experienced by the leadership of these teams who, together with HR, tried to recruit more diverse technical talent. But that was not. The traditional recruitment and selection approach did not provide the right candidates that Bumble was looking for.

The innovation team came to the rescue. They had asked themselves whether an innovative collaboration could offer the solution. They got in touch with the Barcelona-based startup CodeOp, which focuses entirely on solving the so-called “pipeline problem”. This is the theory that diversity initiatives are failing because there simply are not enough skilled members of underrepresented groups — women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, disabled talent, veterans — out there.

CodeOp’s mission is to help women and people from the LGBTQ+ community make the transition to a career in technology. Together with Bumble, they developed a concept in which CodeOp ensured the recruitment of talent and provided the training to become a skilled programmer or data scientist. Bumble paid for the full training and provided a monthly salary as a junior developer from day one of the training.

Win-win-win

This construction solved several problems at once. The participating junior software developers were able to follow the training full-time during the day, making it much easier to combine career and family responsibilities. This also removed the barrier to paying for training without any prospect of a job guarantee.

Because CodeOp is well connected to the LGBTQ+ community, they were able to reach talent easier than the traditional recruiting agencies or Bumble itself. Bumble’s tech teams were able to become a lot more diverse fast, increasing the quality of their products.

Letting go of the zero-sum mindset

Often different teams in organizations are so busy achieving results in their area that there is little to no connection with other teams, let alone constructive collaboration. For example, the focus of the sustainability team can be to make products and services more sustainable, while at the same time the innovation team works on creating new products and services. This can even lead to competition between teams for the scarce time and energy of employees. If one team wins, the other team loses (also known as a zero-sum mindset). This often leads to sub-optimal solutions for the organization.

The key to success may well lie in breaking the silos and constructive collaboration between teams, as was the case with Bumble. This often starts with asking a different question to solve the problem and looking for win-win solutions.

This article has been translated from its original version, which was originally published in Dutch on MT/SPROUT in July, 2022.

Wanna read more ? Then check out this column: “Do you feel lucky? You’ll be better at cultivating serendipity”

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