For years, IT thought more training and educational opportunities were the solution bringing diversity to the field. But a full overhaul of company culture may be necessary to boost retention and tenure.
"At Girls Who Code, we don't actually believe that this is actually a pipeline issue;" it's not for a lack of training in computer science and IT, said Tarika Barrett, COO at Girls Who Code, at the Forbes CIO Next Virtual Series on Tuesday.
The heart of the issue lies in workplace culture. "You don't want to stay at a place where you don't see your trajectory, or you don't feel that you belong," Barrett said.
It's a matter of diversity versus inclusion. A diverse workforce may encompass a wide array of backgrounds, but without inclusion those employees lack meaningful support.
"Diversity is when you get invited to the party," said Aarti Shah, SVP and chief information and digital officer at Eli Lilly & Company. "But inclusiveness is when you actually get invited on the dance floor."
Of 57 tech companies analyzed, 94% under-represent Hispanic/Latinx employees in leadership positions, 82% under-represent Black employees and 91% under-represent Asian employees, according to an analysis by Stephen Greet, co-founder of BeemJobs. The number of women in tech is slowly on the rise, increasing by about 1% in 2019.
"[Changing the culture] starts really early in terms of your hiring practices, and how you're paying attention to diversity, equity and inclusion," Barrett said. And if inclusion is not considered early on, it bleeds into tenure.
For instance, Barrett joined a meeting with executives at a company on workforce diversity. While the company saw entry level roles were becoming more diverse, a look at the data showed those candidates weren't being promoted to senior roles.
"It was a hard conversation to be completely forthright about what it would mean to actually bring diversity across all levels in your organization," said Barrett.
How IT leaders can foster diversity and inclusion
Data and metrics, a language IT professionals are familiar with, provide new insights into what diversity and inclusion can look like in their departments.
"Put out metrics and then measure," Shah said. These measurements ingrain in the culture that diversity and inclusion are "not just the flavor of the month or flavor of the year, but this is real."
Leadership must also set the tone from the top down and reflect the inclusion they want to create.
"How much of [work] is social networks and social capital?" Barrett said. "If these are environments that are predominantly male and predominantly white, you immediately see challenges in terms of a sense of belonging."
Barrett detailed a slew of concrete steps IT departments and leaders can start with on a journey to fostering a better working environment:
Create metrics of external goals and targets to increase diversity.
Hold all members of leadership accountable to diversity and inclusion standards.
Implement better parental leave, modeled by members of leadership.
Provide diverse mentors.
Host inclusive networking events that accommodate the schedules of those traditionally left out, such as parents.
Encourage creativity and innovation because many individuals join the tech field with an interest in making a difference.
Organizations should also ask themselves if they have a diverse slate of candidates and if those candidates are being evaluated by a diverse group of leaders, according to Shah.
"We have to make a concerted effort, an intentional effort to partner with organizations to work with them ahead of time to then attract and bring the talent, onboard the talent," Shah said.