At today’s annual Microsoft shareholder meeting, CEO Satya Nadella identified diversity as a major focus and said it will contribute to the company’s bottom line.
In the last year, all Microsoft employees took a mandatory class in how to overcome “unconscious bias” and listen to their colleagues so they can “bring their best ideas to the table.”
Unconscious bias is the idea that people are more likely to make snap judgments based on appearances. While this can be helpful in some cases — that subway seat is empty for a reason (look closer, it’s got liquid on it) — it can lead to bias against people from different backgrounds and genders, in hiring and in day-to-day work. Google instituted a similar class for employees last year.
Nadella acknowledged that Microsoft has fallen short of the diversity goals he committed to at last year‘s meeting, with the company recently disclosing that the number of women and minorities at the company actually dropped off thanks to its recent rash of layoffs, especially in the Nokia phone unit.
But Nadella reaffirmed that this is a continued area of focus for Microsoft.
“Even with these steps forward, we’re still not where we want to be,” Nadella says.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson took the stage, as he did during Microsoft’s meeting last year, during a question and answer session, to address Microsoft and ask it to commit to setting hard and fast diversity goals, including making more startup capital available to minority groups. Jackson said that he met with Nadella privately earlier this week.
Nadella responded by reiterating some of Microsoft’s progress in that area, including the “YouthSpark” program that gives startup cash to young technical entreprenuers and its success in improving representation in the ranks of leadership.
“When we sort of say everything at Microsoft starts with our mission, and we want to talk about empowering the world and empowering every person on the planet, it has to start with diversity and inclusion right here at Microsoft, and us, representing the world internally,” Nadella says.