What “Progressive” HR Means for Diversity In Tech


Does your business operate within a traditional human resources framework – or do you take a more progressive approach? This choice will have a major impact on your company’s culture – and its bottom line.

So what’s the difference between traditional and progressive approaches?

In a nutshell, traditional HR is based around ‘personnel’; progressive human resources is based around people – these roles are often more fittingly called “People & Culture” to reflect its priority impact areas.

The traditional approach focuses mainly on compliance and contracts, with a purpose to protect a company from employee-related risk, plus carry out the baseline of people operations like hiring and firing. At its best, this approach offers effective rewards-based incentives to employees. At its worst, it means policing staff and business leaders and an uninspiring, clock-in clock-out culture that has no place in the technology businesses of today – if they are going to last for tomorrow!

Enter Progressive HR. In too many organisations, HR has remained at a standstill while knowledge about progressive and strategic human resources has grown. Finally, that’s changing, as many business leaders prioritise bringing their approach to human resources into this century.


Progressive human resources start with an inclusive workforce, reflecting a diverse range of race, gender, sexual orientation and age. Although most businesses understand in theory that diversity, inclusion and equity are paramount to a productive workplace, in practice, they are failing. And the tech industry, in particular, is failing miserably when it comes to female representation.

And remember that while women are vastly underrepresented in technology, they are NOT a minority group. Women make up more than half the population!

Where women make up 47% of the total workforce, Google, YouTube, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook all have a female workforce of less than 35%. A global study by AnitaB.org estimates it will take 12 years before equal representation is achieved in the tech industry. Yet it seems that hiring enough women isn’t the problem (or, at least, not the only problem).

According to Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, it is the “broken rung” theory that stops women from progressing in the tech workforce. While I’m not a huge fan of her book, Lean In, (for a number of reasons – for another time and another blog), she points out that women in tech are hired at a similar rate to other industries in entry-level positions, but fail to progress past that position to higher-ranking jobs. The very first missed promotion, or “broken rung”, creates a glass ceiling effect, making it nearly impossible for women to get ahead.

The solution? A culture shift that starts with progressive human resources, focusing on the experience of people as a driver of performance, and creating a fair and inclusive culture that fosters collaboration and creativity. According to Sandberg, “When employees feel they have equal opportunity to advance and think the system is fair, they are happier with their career [and] plan to stay at their company longer.”


It turns out that in a digital age, women in the workplace, and overwhelmingly in the tech industry, have to worry two-fold: first in getting employed and retaining their role as compared to their male counterparts, and second to their machine counterparts.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution denoted a fusion of digital and physical worlds and an influx of technologies like artificial intelligence, cloud computing and robotics. It mongered a fear of digital technologies taking over our work environments and jobs.

The Fifth Industrial Revolution, contrarily, is focused on the deep, interpersonal connection between man and computer – in what many see as an inevitable progression.

“In the Fifth Industrial Revolution, we’re going to have a chief ethical and humane use officer. You can’t do business in the Fourth Industrial Revolution without the trust of your employees and your customers and partners,” said Salesforce Founder Marc Benioff.

Recent studies found that among HR leaders, hiring managers and employees, 50% already use some form of Artificial Intelligence at work. This is up a massive 32% from 2018 and is only on the rise.

The entry-level roles in which women are traditionally over-represented in the tech industry, like administration and office-based jobs, are the same ones that are being lost to automation. According to findings from an ISEA Report, women in California were twice as likely to work in jobs with a high chance of being replaced by automation.

Studies show that companies benefit from increased employment and leadership opportunities for women: companies with three or more women in senior management functions scored higher in all dimensions of organisational performance.

It is of the utmost importance that employers and HR professionals empower women into roles they deserve – and keep them there. A strategic and progressive human resources plan notes the fifth industrial revolution while recognising the need to continue to represent and retain women in the workforce.


In the tech industry, major strides have been made in the way of Diversity and Inclusion training. However, recent studies show that these efforts have been more than just a little off the mark.

According to the Harvard Business Review, popular diversity programs like unconscious bias training are designed to police managers’ thoughts and actions. This “force-feeding” approach can actually activate bias instead of eradicating it. In fact, organisations are shown to become less diverse when they try to regulate hiring decisions in this way. In my consulting days, I ran unconscious bias training but I became frustrated with companies just wanting to do it in isolation, as a “tick-box” exercise, despite my explicit advice to make it part of a holistic program. So I stopped offering it.


For women in the workforce, and especially in the tech industry, this can seem like a whole lot of doom and gloom. But human resources professionals have the power to change a company’s culture from the ground up, empowering women as they go.

So, what sort of diversity and inclusion initiatives do work? Well, a recent study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that in the absence of observable behaviour changes in males after undertaking diversity training, a “multipronged” approach may work better. Targeting training to different audiences, re-engineering hiring practices, normalising flex and part-time, and using technology and behavioural science to reduce bias in performance evaluations were all examples of properly impactful diversity and inclusion techniques.

The underlying approach to the various training programs and initiatives very much lies in the culture of a business’s human resources ethos: underrepresented people must be encouraged to “join, stay, succeed and lead” within a business. This strategic, long-term, people-based approach to hiring and retention is paramount to progressive HR in a company structure.

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Further reading

How to build a genuinely diverse and inclusive tech workforce without underestimating women’s abilities and potential.
By prioritizing Diversity and Inclusion, startups can tap into a multitude of benefits that will propel their success. Let’s explore.
Uncover the differences between traditional and progressive HR and how the latter is essential to build diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, especially on the verge of the fifth revolution.