Why the Tech Industry Struggles with DE&I

    Although diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) have been hot topics for years, last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests brought them back to the forefront for many companies. In reality, companies should never have lost focus on DE&I. Ethnically and culturally diverse companies are 36 percent more likely to perform better than homogenous organizations. Despite these figures and growing interest from women and people of color, White and Asian men have historically dominated the tech space. 

    To find out why this is, we talked to human resources experts about DE&I issues they see and how technology companies can address them moving forward.

    Problems with DE&I in Tech

    Why Tech Companies Struggle with DE&I

    Tech companies can often struggle with DE&I because their hiring processes aren’t inclusive. This isn’t often intentional and can stem from gendered language and outdated requirements. Shayleen Stuto, VP of HR for TechnologyAdvice says, “Job requirements can create a barrier to entry. For example, requiring a four-year college degree for roles where transferable experience or an associate’s degree can suffice.” 

    Requiring a four-year degree automatically knocks out anyone who doesn’t have the financial means to afford one, although they may have knowledge, experience, and passion for the job. Instead, tech companies might consider hiring applicants with relevant certifications, whether or not they have a degree to go with them.

    However, some organizations blame their recruiting pipelines — the applicants that they already have in some stage of the hiring process (e.g. just applied, interviewing, etc.). Amiee Sadler, education and research manager at people3, a diversity training, coaching, and consulting firm, explains, “There are perceived issues about pipelines. We hear all the time that there’s no one in the pipeline, but what are you doing to change the pipeline?” Just because you haven’t had diverse applicants in the past, it doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in the roles you’re offering. 

    Referrals often get preferential treatment in the recruiting space, which can lead to positions getting filled before diverse candidates have time to search for them. Referrals are great for a quick hire, but your treatment of referred candidates could be contributing to your diversity problem.

    “When asked to refer potential candidates, the usual response is to look at friend groups and networks,” Sadler says. “If your friend groups and networks look like you, the people you end up recommending look like you too.” 

    Where Solutions Need to Come From

    Sadler notes that DE&I initiatives have to come from the top.  No one stumbles onto diversity; executives must consciously create a welcoming, inclusive environment. 

    “Leadership has to buy in and make it a priority for the company,” Sadler says. “It has to become the culture of the organization and it has to be intentional.”

    Additionally, Sadler urges companies to make an actual investment in their diversity. “The reality is you can’t put a price on culture, but you can absolutely define the value,” she says. That value comes from increases in revenue thanks to new ways of solving problems and higher engagement among all of your employees, leading to lower turnover.

    “The reality is you can’t put a price on culture, but you can absolutely define the value.”

    Amiee Sadler, education and research manager at people3

    Organizations have a big part to play in increasing their own diversity, but the change has to start early, as well. Andre Fomby, an IT manager in Lexington, KY, says, “It needs to start in high school, college, and at home. For younger adults, parents need to make sure their children are prepared for an interview. Young adults who don’t have a mentor/close parent with knowledge need to search the web for what to do to prepare.”  

    Mentorship opportunities have to be available through public schools with no cost and low barriers to entry, so they’re open to as many students as possible. Otherwise, only students with means will be able to participate, and we’ll end up with the same issues. Local business owners or executives, college professors, or even passionate teachers can all run these kinds of mentorship programs, and they might consider offering them remotely to capture a wider audience of interested students.

    For example, a recruiter for a local software development company might start a mentorship program teaching high school students about the type of degrees they might want to pursue if they’re planning to attend college, certifications they can earn, and even basic job application tasks, like how to write a resume and what belongs in a cover letter. Once they’ve got the curriculum together, they can speak at high school job fairs and similar events to identify interested individuals and invite them to join the program.

    Addressing DE&I in Your Own Company

    For DE&I to become mainstays in your own organization, there has to be a culture shift towards celebrating diversity. Tom Parker, CEO of Hubble, notes, “There’s a lot of training that goes on for the sake of having training. What’s more important is day-to-day behavior and top-down messaging from executives. That’s really what’s going to change the culture and have people get into the right mindset.” But just talking about diversity isn’t enough.

    Your approach to hiring has to reflect that commitment. Stuto explains TechnologyAdvice’s approach to diverse hiring. “As we work to grow our team with the best candidates possible, we post our jobs to a number of job boards specific to diverse communities and partner with organizations including HBCUs, veteran groups, women in tech/marketing networking groups, minority-owned/led organizations, and more to spread the word about our open positions.” Referrals sometimes lead to organizations remaining homogenous. You need to think outside the box when it comes to your recruitment activities to ensure you’re hiring the best people.

    “DE&I is a journey, not a destination. Be adaptable, be flexible, be teachable, and never stop striving to create a truly inclusive culture.”

    Amiee Sadler, education and research manager at people3

    Consider promoting some of your own employees as well, rather than looking only at outside hires. Fomby gives an example of this. “Look for internal employees that might be in blue-collar positions to see if they aspire to do more. Sponsor them and help pay for education. Start an internal mentoring program and people groups so that folks have an internal sense of belonging.” These employees already have knowledge of the inner workings of your organization, and they’ll show higher engagement knowing that you value them as people.

    Finally, remember that incorporating DE&I into your company is an ongoing process. “There is no magic action that will improve DE&I,” Sadler says. “DE&I is a journey, not a destination. Be adaptable, be flexible, be teachable, and never stop striving to create a truly inclusive culture.”

    DE&I Have to Come from the Top

    Your employees can talk about and support DE&I practices until they’re blue in the face, but unless the executive team is also onboard and championing these practices, your organization will likely never change. Executives have to make a conscious effort to examine their current job requirements, hiring practices, and internal and external messaging to ensure they aren’t incidentally excluding anyone. Training and discussions are great and important, but true change won’t come until executives enact policies that outline diversity as the only path to success.

    Read next: Top Tech Job Opportunities You Should Know About

    Jenn Fulmer
    Jenn Fulmer
    Jenn Fulmer is a writer for TechnologyAdvice, IT Business Edge, Channel Insider, and eSecurity Planet currently based in Lexington, KY. Using detailed, research-based content, she aims to help businesses find the technology they need to maximize their success and protect their data.

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