The technology sector is in the midst of a raging debate about whether its leaders have done enough to ensure a diverse workforce.
Yet those efforts are falling well short of the mark, leading some experts to argue that companies are faltering because they lack deep understanding of their workforces, as well as the populations they serve.
Earlier this month, the Congressional Black Caucus's (CBC) Diversity Task Force met with Silicon Valley tech leaders to push for more African-American representation in the field.
The meeting was part of a sustained effort to boost the representation of blacks, Hispanics and women among technology workers. It's become a hot topic that has put industry leaders like Google and Apple on the defensive even as the sector sits on record profit of nearly $135 billion collectively.
To be sure, the conversation hinges largely on how diversity is defined. Organizations like Working Partnerships USA point out that tech's "invisible workforce"—the plethora of nonskilled support jobs outside of engineering and coding—is in fact balanced, but mostly underpaid.
However, at least a few observers argue that some workplaces are growing in diversity, yet don't fully appreciate their workers' abilities, or their target markets. Along those lines, experts say both companies and diversity advocates might be misapplying the lessons of diversity.
"We define cultural competence as the ability to interact effectively across difference," said Sara Taylor, founder and president of deepSEE Consulting, a diversity and cultural competency consulting firm.
"It's not just about diversity; it's about what we do to utilize it," she said. "It's like having a giant treasure chest—do you know how to unlock it? You need competence to unlock it."