In June 2020, companies took to social media to express their support for Black Lives Matter after witnessing the traumatic death of George Floyd. Public displays of support ranged from tweeting pledges to listen and learn to posting black squares on Instagram and donating to Black Lives Matter and protest bail funds.
In what came as little surprise to Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, many of these companies did not walk the talk and have since been identified as optical allies — a term coined by Latham Thomas to describe “allyship that only serves at the surface level to platform the ‘ally.’” And as time went on, the deaths of Floyd and countless other Black people who inspired this social justice movement have faded into the chaos of 2020.
Against this backdrop, diversity has emerged as a critical driver of our ability to move forward as an industry. Diversifying the tech industry will not only help dismantle systemic oppression but also lead to better financial performance. Research continues to show that a diverse workforce – one with a wide range of voices, backgrounds and perspectives, gives birth to new ideas, increasing an organization’s capacity for disruptive innovation and building resilience to enable it to better endure a challenging market. Here’s how to get started diversifying your workforce.
Evaluate where you are today
Collect demographic data. An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report on Diversity in High Tech highlighted the disproportionate representation of the BIPOC community in tech. This disparity is highest in the executive ranks, where 83% of tech leaders identify as white, 10.6% as Asian American, 3.1% as Hispanic and 2% as African American. Since that report, which was based on data collected in 2014, very little progress has been made, a CNBC analysis found.
When collecting this data, tell the employees how the results will be used and the impact the data will have on the company. Ask inclusive questions when collecting relevant race and gender identity data. Consider collecting representative data for LGBTQ+ employees and employees with disabilities while being mindful of the risks these employees may feel when participating.
Look at your hiring process. Is your hiring process filtering out diverse candidates? Actively reducing bias and creating a transparent hiring process will attract diverse applicants.
Consider taking the following actions:
- Developing and including a statement of equity and inclusion beyond the canned “Equal Opportunity Employer” language used on postings.
- Limiting gendered language or terms like “code ninja” or “wizard” in position descriptions.
- Listing compensation in postings.
- Diversifying your recruitment pool by seeking candidates from professional organizations for women and underrepresented minorities. (https://www.cio.com/article/3564791/10-professional-organizations-focused-on-diversity-in-tech.html)
- Giving candidates the opportunity to show their best self. Allow them to prepare by setting expectations for the interview structure or providing interview questions in advance.
Focus on retention. Without an equitable and inclusive culture, diverse employees will not stay. In fact, a 2017 study from Kapor Center showed that unfairness in working culture, ranging from stereotyping and microaggressions to bullying and being passed over for raises, is directly related to turnover of Black, Hispanic and female employees, costing tech employers an estimated $16 billion per year.
Make sure you know where and when diverse employees are leaving the company. Analyzing the demographic data you collect combined with data on employee attrition will allow you to see employment trends and track progress.
Develop a blueprint for the future
IT leaders should be investing in a comprehensive strategic plan that focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) to retain current employees and attract new, diverse candidates. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to addressing the diversity discrepancies in tech, but exploring the following can get you started:
- Set goals to increase diversity and retention at all levels.
- Establish values and a mission statement specific to DE&I goals.
- Publish diversity data annually.
- Cultivate leadership and employee buy-in. A culture of inclusion requires engagement at all levels.
- Set expectations of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors in the workplace and hold employees accountable for their actions.
- Review management processes to identify potential biases related to performance.
- Adopt a model of transparency in pay structures to reduce pay disparities based on gender and race.
- Evaluate how the company’s equity and inclusion reaches beyond your employees. Who are your partners, and where is your money going? Does this align with your DE&I values?
Engaging in this work can be difficult and feel overwhelming, so consider partnering with an organization dedicated to helping companies evolve their DE&I solutions and strategies, like Workplace Change or ReadySet. Going beyond words of solidarity to commit to continual process improvements is the necessary next step on your DE&I journey. It is well worth the effort.