Solutions for improving diversity in tech

Visibility matters for women's leadership in tech when it comes to innovation today and improving the talent pipeline for tomorrow.

Solutions for improving diversity in tech
Credit: Unsplash/designcue

Recently, Facebook blamed its lack of progress in hiring women and minorities on the lack of talent, i.e. problems with the pipeline. Some experts disagree, citing statistics that show that the percentages of women and minorities graduating from computer science programs are higher than the percentages of women and minorities in tech workforces. We have work to do, and it starts with current leadership understanding that visibility matters when it comes to innovation today and improving the talent pipeline for tomorrow.

Women entrepreneurs across the political spectrum have been cheering that the glass ceiling is cracking just a bit more as Hillary Clinton is poised to be the first woman to become the presidential nominee for either major U.S. political party. Research has shown that visibility of women leaders in politics boosts opportunities for women currently in leadership and women who aspire to lead in the future. Studies suggest that women in political power boost educational aspirations and achievements of young women and provide role models that inspire women to perform better and reach for higher levels of management.

However, we need to ask ourselves about the visibility of women in leadership positions within our own industry. What is the downstream impact of women in leadership in technology?

Here are some statistics from the National Center for Women & Information Technology:

  • 17%: percentage of women who earned bachelor’s degrees in computer science in 2014; in 1985 that figure was 37%.

  • 25%: percentage of women in the computing workforce in 2015.

    • 3%: African-American women

    • 5%: Asian women

    • 1%: Hispanic women

  • 17%: percentage of Fortune 500 CIO positions held by women in 2015

A 2012 study out of Columbia University suggests that businesses without women in the top management ranks miss out on $42 million. That figure is the increase in the value of S&P 1500 companies where women hold top management positions, including and up to the CEO, when the focus of the company is on innovation.

Moreover, McKinsey Global Institute research suggests that gender parity in the workforce could add $4.3 trillion to the U.S. economy by 2025. And some research has shown that having women on boards and in management positions was correlated with higher profitability. Visibility matters when we are potentially leaving millions in profitability and trillions GDP growth on the table.

Can women in tech leadership inspire more women to reach for higher levels of management and boost educational aspirations, just as women in political leadership do? It seems possible that women’s leadership in tech could influence business now and bring more women into the fold in the future. Venture capitalists and CIOs should take note of the potential for innovation and financial growth that could be missed by a lack of women’s leadership now and in the future.

Increasing the number of women in technology, as well as their visibility, represents a massive opportunity for technology companies. So, what should technology leaders do to improve their workforce diversity?

  1. Prioritize diversity in professional experience as well as a greater variety of skill sets when hiring. Look beyond traditional job descriptions when hiring, sponsoring and promoting -- think in terms of skills and what diverse experiences candidates bring to the table. This leads not just to diversity, but to greater innovation as well.

  1. Build and sustain an innovative, collaborative and diverse culture. A culture invested in innovation will actively require a diverse workforce to meet business needs because diversity makes us smarter, increases our creativity, creates better products and sustains an open, collaborative culture. Tech leaders in the C-suite need to role-model and visibly support diversity initiatives by making a serious commitment to encourage others within the organization to shift their thinking. Talent management leadership will need C-suite-supported influence to expose and help change mindsets that hinder organizational diversity goals.

  1. Fund startups led by women. Companies are going to be making strategic investments -- make an effort to seek out diversity in leadership while doing so. This increases access to resources, opportunity, and funding that usually falls toward overwhelmingly white and male-led startups.

  1. Consider setting specific numeric objectives. If places like Facebook are having trouble improving the representation of women and minorities in their workforces, companies that choose to implement the suggestions above may also need to consider setting specific numeric goals for diversity (not unlike goals a company would set for profits or sales). Diversity objectives should be transparent, as should the organization's plan for achieving them.

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