by Phil Schneidermeyer

Why Diversity Matters in IT Hiring

Mar 27, 20133 mins
CareersIT JobsIT Skills

Building a network of diverse IT talent--people who will be ready for your next job opening--is a year-round task with a big payoff, says a former divisional CIO at GE

Margot Sharapova was, until recently, the CIO of GE Healthcare Medical Diagnostics, a General Electric division with more than 5,000 employees in 50 countries. Her career path has taken some interesting turns: After graduating from Dartmouth, she moved to Siberia to teach English (she speaks Russian fluently). She joined GE Plastics in 1995 through an Information Management Leadership Program, and then moved into CIO roles at a succession of GE divisions.

In an interview, Margot offers her philosophy on attracting great talent and building a diverse team.

As a CIO, what has been your approach to diversity?

My approach has been to actively engage with internal and external groups that support diversity in professional development. You have to make the effort on a regular basis. It is no different than college recruiting–you can’t just show up once a year and expect to be taken seriously. When you have a job opening to fill, you should have already been visible and available as a speaker or mentor. CIOs need to be recruiting every day.

Is diversity broader than gender or ethnicity?

Yes–I also strive for diversity of thought. For example, here is the breakdown of my direct reports at GE: a Brit who lives in Norway, an Indian based in the U.K., an Indian woman based in India, an IT architect born and raised in New Jersey, and an Indian and Ghanaian in New Jersey. We had robust staff conversations.

There is another element of diversity. Many of us who go into IT roles are control freaks. But to be successful in the future, given the pace of technology change, we need to embrace a degree of chaos or lack of control.

So as a CIO, you must be comfortable hiring people who don’t think like you do–people who have a different heritage and cultural norms. Be aware that it can take time for a diverse group to learn how to work together.

On some level, working with carbon copies of yourself is easier, but it is dangerous, given the global challenges we all face.

Why is having a diverse team important?

One, I want the diversity in my organization to match the diversity of our customers so that we can relate to customers in all divisions all over the world. Our organization must be a reflection of the people we serve.

Two, these are complex problems we are trying to solve for our customers. Economies in developing markets change rapidly, whereas mature markets move to a different rhythm. If we don’t have diversity of thought, we won’t be able to solve tomorrow’s problems.

Three, at a big corporation we have contracts with recruiters who are supposed to present a diverse slate of job candidates, but unless you drive it, you won’t get it. You can’t just rely on a recruiter and tell the executive team, “Well, the recruiter didn’t give me anyone diverse.”

That’s why developing a network 365 days a year matters. This way, when you have an opening, you already have contacts.

Is it easier for a diverse leader to attract a diverse team?

Strong leaders attract strong talent, period. If you become known for strong talent-management skills, then talented folks of all backgrounds will want to join your team. They in turn pull in other great talent. The same occurs on the diversity side; it is the gift that keeps giving.

Phil Schneidermeyer is a partner with Heidrick & Struggles, where he specializes in recruiting CIOs and CTOs for all industries.

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