Today, management consultancy Global Lead released the results of a comprehensive survey of African-American IT professionals that it conducted between August and November 2005. The survey pinpoints the reasons African-Americans enter the IT profession, the factors that influence their satisfaction on the job, and the circumstances that drive them to leave their jobs. It also highlights approaches CIOs can use to recruit and retain African-American IT professionals, who make up less than 3 percent of senior-level IT management, according to the Information Technology Senior Management Forum, a national organization dedicated to increasing the number of African-American IT executives, which commissioned the study.
“There’s a great opportunity [for CIOs] to retain a portion of their workforce that is committed to and passionate about the work [they do], and that opportunity lies in building deeper and more effective relationships with the African-Americans in their organization,” says Arlene Roane, Global Lead’s managing director of marketing.
Judging by the survey data, CIOs who wish to attract and retain African-American IT professionals have their work cut out for them. Overall, the survey results paint a grim picture of African-American IT professionals’ perceptions of equality in the workplace and of their satisfaction with their jobs and employers.
More than half (56 percent) of respondents considered leaving their employers in 2005, the year the survey was conducted, up from 44 percent last year, according to a survey of black IT workers conducted by the National Urban League.
Global Lead’s Roane says African-Americans begin to look for new jobs when they don’t feel comfortable being themselves at work. A whopping 43 percent of respondents said they have to adjust their personal style to fit in at the office. “When people have to do that every day, it causes stress and it causes them to say, ‘Maybe this isn’t a place where I can fulfill my dreams,’ ” says Roane.
They’ve also thought about quitting because they don’t see opportunities for advancement, because they don’t feel at ease with their peers, bosses and subordinates, and because they don’t think they’re treated equally.
Less than half of survey respondents (48 percent) see opportunities to advance their careers with their current employers. Only 27 percent think that everyone has an equal chance to further his or her career goals in their companies. Fifty-six percent think minorities are treated differently than the white people in their organizations. With those numbers, it’s no surprise that fewer than 50 percent of respondents said they trust their peers.
The fact that respondents see so few opportunities for advancement indicates why their job satisfaction is so low. Therefore, creating opportunities for professional development will go a long way toward helping to attract and retain African-American IT workers, according to the study, which revealed that less than half of respondents have developed a career plan with their manager’s support.
Global Lead’s Roane says African-American IT professionals want their supervisors to be honest with them about their chances for development and advancement inside the organization. For example, they want the truth as to whether they qualify for company-sponsored training programs, and they want to have these discussions with their managers up front rather than having them be a surprise, says Roane.
Knowing they have an advocate—someone who will speak on their behalf when they’re not in a meeting or who will give them candid feedback and guidance about their professional development—is also a key factor in black IT professionals’ job satisfaction. Roane says they don’t necessarily look for another black person to be their advocate; they want someone well-respected in the organization, who has the ability to influence others. When asked if advocacy was important to respondents because they feel that they’re not taken seriously or as seriously as someone else because they’re black, Roane answered, “That’s certainly a factor, but it’s becoming less of a factor.”
In sum, the study indicates that African-American IT workers, regardless of their seniority in their organizations, tend to stay in their jobs when they have productive relationships with their co-workers, have a clear career path and are equally rewarded for their work.
“If you want to drive better results in recruitment, retention and advancement, you need to emphasize compensation and rewards, advocacy and support systems, and helping recruits understand their career advancement options,” says Roane. And CIOs better make sure their compensation and reward system is applied equally throughout their IT departments, because if disparities do exist, and if those disparities become public, their employees will lose their faith and trust in their leaders.
Of course, the benefits of getting these policies and systems right outweigh the consequences of getting them wrong. “Look at a company like Procter & Gamble,” says Roane. “They’re getting this right on so many different levels, and you see it reflected consistently in their market performance, their financial performance and the innovative products they deliver.”
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