There has been a lot of discussion about diversity in IT over the last couple of years. After releasing statistics showing a general lack of diversity among their workers, several tech companies, including Microsoft, Intel and HP, vowed to double their efforts to promote more diverse workplaces.
Some of those efforts have slightly improved racial diversity. Gender diversity, however, has remained a challenge.
On average, women comprise about one-third of the workforce, according to a recent analysis of nine major tech companies by Fortune. And the higher up you go, the worse it gets.
“That gap widens even further as you go up the ladder,” said the Fortune report. “Even at top-scoring Airbnb, women hold only 29% of leadership jobs.”
Gender-related challenges in the workplace can start early on for women. Of women with a degree in one of the tech fields, 40% either never enter their field or drop out within five years, according to a Fortune report. A recent survey of female IT workers points to several factors that may contribute to this phenomenon. According to a study by Elephant in the Valley:
- 59% of women surveyed felt they did not have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
- 90% witnessed sexist behavior at company offsites and/or industry conferences.
- 65% of women who reported unwanted sexual advances had received advances from a superior, with half receiving advances more than once.
This type of environment may contribute to women’s lack of interest in staying in IT, though it’s unlikely that it is limited to the tech industry. But, how can CIOs help improve the environment in their own organizations and ensure women feel welcome?
The initiatives large IT companies like Microsoft, Intel and HP have launched are broad and sometimes expensive. But there are smaller steps CIOs can take to promote gender and racial diversity in the workplace.
Litha Ramirez, director of user experience and design at Breakthrough Technologies and a winner of the Timmy award for best technology manager, recently offered CIO Dive some tips.
Efforts to promote diversity need to be based on more than the desire to check a box, said Ramirez. Promoting diversity requires believing strongly in what it brings to the workforce. CIOs need to move beyond the feeling of “should” and understand how a mix of different ideas, backgrounds, opinions and experiences will strengthen their team and overall organization.
“The most important thing is to have an awareness of diversity,” said Ramirez. “CIOs have to recognize diversity as a priority, put it on their agenda and actively speak out about its importance. Diversity is not something you can be passive about. CIOs have to be vocal and committed to promoting diversity to drive meaningful, positive change.”
Focus on recruiting
When recruiting, CIOs should emphasize their desire to see a diverse pool of candidates, which is just as important as any skill set.
“This does not mean that you will hire an unqualified person over a qualified person, but rather that there are plenty of people out there with a wide range of different backgrounds who would make a good fit for the job,” said Ramirez.
Hiring a diverse workforce often requires looking outside of traditional recruiting areas.
“Many well-known companies and schools do not have diverse populations, which means that if a CIO only focuses on recruiting candidates from those places, the hiring pool won’t be diverse, and thus neither will the hires,” said Ramirez. “To find diverse candidates, CIOs have to broaden their search to different types of workplaces and schools, as well as diversity fairs and meet-ups.”
Ramirez also suggests CIOs activate their team to continue bringing diverse new hires on board.
“Once you have a diverse team, leverage their pool of connections,” she said. “They may be able to tap into their community and find qualified candidates.”
Mentoring and professional development
Mentoring and professional development are extremely important for promoting diversity, and driving business performance, said Ramirez.
“Everybody on your team should have equal opportunities to learn and grow within the organization,” she said. “If they are hired at a junior level, then offer cross training and professional development so they can get exposed to different types of projects, work with more senior people, and develop their skill sets, as well as their comportment skills. Help people continue to build their competencies and create a path for promotion.”