In the last few months roughly 20 tech companies broke with traditional silences around data transparency, publicly releasing their diversity demographics.
Before then, a few companies, such as Intel, had been releasing their company-wide equal opportunity data for quite some time. But until last year, few, if any, companies had revealed their demographic data for technical occupations, in particular.
This historic trend is a laudable and important first step in stimulating open conversation and action to increase diverse representation in the tech industry. Indeed, access to such data is vital for benchmarking, for determining next steps, and for measuring progress. But it's important that efforts to increase representation in tech don’t end here.
Taking additional steps to implement meaningful change efforts is also important. This means treating these efforts like any other serious business imperative, allocating significant financial and human resources to the implementation of research-based practices, setting goals, and tracking progress. Only then will companies, and society at large, benefit from the many advantages diversity brings to innovation, productivity, and problem solving. Here are some researched-backed methods to make real progress in your diversity efforts.
1. We Will Keep The Focus On Changing Company Culture And Avoid Focusing Only Or Primarily On The "Pipeline"
While it is important to take action at all levels, shifting the focus to the pipeline often prevents companies from taking important research-based actions to change their own culture. Research clearly demonstrates that this is not simply a "pipeline problem." Company culture plays a significant role in driving women and underrepresented groups away from these jobs.
This involves moving beyond lip service and supporting these efforts in highly visible ways: personally showing up for diversity events and efforts; funding and otherwise resourcing these efforts the way you do other important business endeavors; and building in accountability metrics for managers and senior executives. As the old adage goes, "What gets measured is what gets done."
Increasing representation is not a "women’s issue" or a "person of color’s issue." It is a human issue and a business issue. When it comes to gender diversity, for example, men stand to benefit from expanding gender norms, and a great deal of research shows that society stands to benefit from including diverse voices in designing the technology of the future.
Involving majority group members is vital for true change to occur. Of course, this can be tricky if majority group members are ill prepared or do not approach these issues with a spirit of inquiry. Check out some of the latest research and resources for information on how to successfully work with majority-group advocates for diversity.
Treat increasing diverse participation like any other critical business issue. Set goals, plan strategically for how you will meet these goals, amply resource these efforts, and continually measure progress. Consider regularly reporting diversity data in the corporate annual report. To assist tech companies with these processes, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) has developed an Industry Change Model. NCWIT’s Strategic Planning and Data Collection and Strategic Planning Guidelines can help you use this model to identify research-based practices you can implement and strategies for tracking progress.
While overall numbers are important, it also matters WHAT women and other underrepresented groups are actually doing in these technical jobs. Are they able to make meaningful contributions to innovation? To assess this, consider collecting data on who is represented in leadership roles, creative and core technical roles, patenting, and so on.
According to research by the Level Playing Field Institute, more than 2 million employees a year leave their jobs due solely to repeated instances of unfairness or unconscious biases. Because managers have such a significant effect on the daily experience of their employees, helping managers address and reduce these biases can go a long way toward retaining and improving the workplace for underrepresented groups.
7. We Will Analyze Job Descriptions, Recruitment Strategies, And Interview Practices For Hidden Biases
Additional research illustrates that subtle wording in job descriptions can deter highly qualified candidates from applying for jobs. Likewise, interview practices do not always identify the qualities that actually make candidates successful, causing companies to miss out on valuable talent. Analyzing your job descriptions and other recruitment strategies can make a significant difference in your candidate pool.
Sponsoring differs from mentoring in that sponsors advocate publicly for their protégés, making sure that their work is seen in the right places and by the right people. Women with sponsors are more likely to remain and advance in the company. Targeted leadership development programs also can help underrepresented employees navigate the "hidden" rules and networks in the technical workplace.
9. We Will Ensure Productive Team Environments Where All Members Can Contribute To Innovation And Problem Solving
Unconscious biases easily slip into team meetings and informal interactions. For example, most people have been in meetings where one or two team members dominate the conversation or someone gets credit for an idea voiced earlier by someone else. These dynamics are exacerbated when one is a minority in a particular environment. Fortunately, team members can take a variety of relatively simple steps to make these environments more productive: soliciting the opinions of quieter members, making sure that a variety of voices are heard, and ensuring that individuals get credit for their ideas and their work. As an added bonus, these strategies are relatively inexpensive to implement.
10. We Will Implement Flexible Work-Life Policies And Make It Okay To Actually Use These Policies Without Overt Or Subtle Repercussions
While many companies have flexible work policies on the books, employees are often stigmatized if they utilize such policies. Companies should examine their performance evaluation and promotion processes for biases that subtly or overtly penalize these employees. Companies should also encourage and support men, as well as women, in taking advantage of these policies.
—Catherine Ashcraft is a senior research scientist at the National Center for Women & Information Technology. She conducts research related to gender, diversity, and technology and directs reform initiatives for NCWIT’s Workforce Alliance, a consortium of leading, global technology companies and departments.