Cultivating Diversity: Strategies and Approaches

Technology companies have a diversity and inclusion problem. Many have promised to improve, but the reality is few have made significant headway. Google reported improvement in 2020 but still fell short of what would be considered a diverse workforce.

  • 5.5% of employees were Black
  • 6.6% of employees identified as Latinx 
  • 32.5% of employees were women

Google is not alone. Other tech companies show similar numbers. Only Apply and Amazon show more diversity; however, much of that is because of their retail and warehousing businesses.

During ONUG Fall 2020, a conference session was devoted to diversity in technology. In the session, the following participants discussed strategies and approaches to increase workforce diversity.

  • Serpil Bayraktar
  • Renee Galitis
  • Janice MacDonald
  • Suzan Mahboob

The session began with a conversation on why diversity was needed.

Why Companies Need Diversity

Companies have to innovate to survive. According to Serpil, innovation comes from creativity and intelligence. It happens when different backgrounds, experiences, and skills are brought together to generate new ideas. However, companies must create a safe environment for diverse views to be expressed. When organizations are committed to diversity, they can improve their ability to innovate by 83%. Diverse teams were found to solve problems faster than more homogeneous groups.

Businesses need diversity because their customers are diverse. People interact with technology differently depending on age, ethnicity, and gender. Cultural experiences can also impact how consumers use technology. Without diversity, organizations fail to address the expectations of their customer base.

How Companies Build Diversity

Companies build diversity through hiring practices and internal policies. They acknowledge biases can provide training to raise awareness. According to participants, there are numerous ways to build diversity.

  • Janice. Make sure that job descriptions use inclusive language. Use diverse interviewers during the hiring process and make diversity awareness part of onboarding.
  • Renee. Companies need a more granular look at technology. Within IT, there are pockets where few, if any, women exist. For example, networking and infrastructure are male-dominated, and organizations need to be asking why. Perhaps, businesses could offer to train women in those areas if there are no external candidates. They need to find ways to make all of IT diverse.
  • Serpil. External organizations such as volunteer or non-profit groups provide opportunities to engage with individuals with similar interests who might have access to a broader talent pool. Companies should support individuals who participate in these groups as a way to encourage diversity.

Overall, companies build diversity through an inclusive culture. Their hiring practices reflect the quest for diversity by looking outside the traditional candidate pipeline. They consider innovative ways to encourage and train employees to acquire more technical skills.

How Companies Hire Diversity

If tech wants to diversify, they have to start looking for candidates outside the traditional pipelines. They need to revisit their screening processes. For example, automated solutions that review applications against a pre-configured set of filters may need to be modified to allow for a more diverse talent pool. Companies have to recognize their natural biases and then adjust policies and practices to address them.

Renee mentioned an initiative that brought diverse representatives from companies to local high schools to engage with students, letting them know that diversity was possible in the tech industry. Serpil suggested looking outside traditional universities for candidates. There are plenty of specialty programs and small institutions of higher learning that can provide qualified candidates.

A final recommendation was to encourage minorities to apply for positions. Many minority personnel does not apply unless they possess 100% of the job requirements. This attitude often limits the diversity of the candidate pool. Sometimes, company leadership needs to give individuals a chance and help them grow into positions.

What are Tech Biases?

Suzan mentioned how technical jargon often uses pejorative terms. For example, Suzan had a colleague ask her about “blacklist and white list” as it relates to security. The colleague indicated that using black to indicate bad and white to show good was offensive. In the same way, protocols use the terms Master and Slave. These may be unconscious biases, but they are offensive. 

Organizations need to offer more opportunities for coworkers and colleagues to share experiences of bias. Sharing personal experiences has more of an impact and can help people develop empathy for others. Sometimes, people are unaware of how their biases affect others.

Serpil related an experience where she observed how unconscious bias played a role in how a candidate was viewed. When the female candidate was interviewed, she engaged with the interviewers differently than the male candidates. Many interviewers saw her form of engagement as a negative, simply because it was unfamiliar. Everyone needs to be aware of biases and be willing to confront them when required.

How Companies Build a Diverse Culture

Not everyone believes tech has a problem with diversity, so the first step is creating awareness. Conversations need to happen at all levels in an organization. Individuals must be willing to hold each other accountable. They should create opportunities for diversity and be courageous in implementing policies.

All participants agreed that companies must make space for diversity. That means making time to raise awareness and to have conversations about the value of diversity. Businesses should ensure that opportunities are available and minorities are encouraged to seize them. 

Open communication is essential to a culture of diversity. Everyone should feel safe in expressing their ideas. Ensuring a diverse culture begins with recruitment and hiring; it continues through onboarding. Every step in an employee’s journey should promote diversity.

As the session came to an end, the participants were asked how they felt about the future of diversity in technology companies. All agreed that they were hopeful. They thought that the past year created an opportunity for organizations to look at their cultures and initiate more conversations about making tech more inclusive.

If you’d like to learn more about diversity, join us at ONUG Spring 2021, May 5-6, by clicking here

Author's Bio

Joann Varello

Director of Marketing, ONUG