by Rachel Dines

Recruiting for a More Diverse IT Staff: Seven Tips

Nov 23, 2009
IT Leadership

IT departments are notorious for their lack of diversity and the problem is only getting worse. Here are seven practical steps that CIOs and other IT leaders can take to attract and retain more women and underrepresented minorities to IT staffs.

Diversity (or lack thereof) in IT has been a hot topic in the news and among our clients in recent months. And it’s true: IT departments are notorious for their lack of diversity, and the problem is only getting worse. Over the past few years, the number of women and underrepresented minorities (URMs) in IT has been dropping steadily. CIOs and other IT leaders can follow these simple steps to attract and retain women and URMs into their IT departments:

Adjust the language in your job description. Research has shown that women are less likely to apply for positions unless they meet every requirement in the job description, while men are more likely to send in an application if they meet three-quarters or more of the criteria on the list. When writing job descriptions, companies often list required qualities in a candidate in the same sentence as qualities that are not required but that are desirable. Instead, if you’re writing a listing for a network administrator, for example, and virtualization skills are a plus but not entirely necessary for the position, list this skill separately from the other required skills.

Recruit at women’s and minority-serving institutions. Over the past decade, the historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and the Hispanic-serving institutions (HSI) have received billions of dollars from government agencies to benefit their science and technology programs. These programs graduate thousands of qualified minority candidates in technology and engineering every year. Additionally, several highly regarded women’s colleges are starting up engineering and computer science programs that are growing quickly. Smith College’s Picker Engineering program is an excellent example of this.

IT Recruiting Definition and Solutions

Reach out through professional groups and attend job fairs for minorities and women in IT. Professional networks for women and minorities in IT, such as the National Society of Black Engineers or Women in Technology International, are plentiful and are a great way to reach out to diverse candidates. Many of these professional groups also host online job boards or listings and, often, events. The biggest conferences for women and minorities in IT are the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing.

Promote work/life balance and a flexible workplace. Work/life balance, as well as a culture of flexibility in the workplace, is the single most important factor when attracting and retaining women and minorities. Although these types of cultural adjustments have historically been aimed at attracting and retaining women (who are more likely than men to be juggling childcare along with a career), anecdotal evidence suggests that these qualities in a workplace are important to minorities as well, especially if they are foreign-born.

Work Life Balance: PWC Gets It Right

Focus on service delivery and IT’s role in the big picture. Studies have shown that women and minorities look for work that they feel is more meaningful, helpful, and engaging. The least desirable position would be a replaceable “cog in the wheel.” It’s therefore important to avoid the trap of becoming an IT department that is completely inwardly focused and heads-down in the daily grind. To create a culture that is attractive to women and URMs, make sure you focus on the services that IT provides to the business and on what these services enable the business to do.

Make time for training and skills advancement during the workday. Almost 80 percent of mid-level women in IT who have partners claim that their partners work full-time. For men, this number is almost 38 percent. The end result? Women in IT are much less likely to have free time outside of work to invest in developing and maintaining their technology skills. Thus, it’s important to make time during the workday for all employees to engage in training and skills development and allow all employees to excel in their positions.

Set up mentoring programs, affinity groups, and communities for women and URMs. Studies have shown that mentoring and affinity groups improve effectiveness, confidence, work satisfaction, and talent retention. Furthermore, when women in IT were surveyed on what barriers existed for them in their field, most cited lack of role models, mentors, sponsors, or champions as top challenges.

In the end, executive accountability and commitment are key to achieving diversity. Getting executives onboard and creating a formal accountability program for diversity is the first, and some say the most critical, step. In addition to a formal action plan, some companies create task forces to draft the initiative and monitor its progress. Benchmark your success with an annual employee survey on job satisfaction and additional services they feel you should offer.

Rachel Dines is a Researcher at Forrester Research where she serves Infrastructure & Operations professionals. She focuses on focuses on data center technologies, colocation, facilities, infrastructure, and management as well as virtual infrastructure and automation technologies.