The tech sector’s two big challenges, lack of diversity and worker shortages, can be made to solve one another, if the right initiatives are put in place.
March 13, 2019 6 min read
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It’s no secret Big Tech is hard pressed when it comes to staffing vacant IT positions. Nearly 1.4 million computing job openings are expected to be available in the U.S. by 2020, while the top four tech companies — Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon — continue to expand with billion dollar investments in new campuses across the nation.
The solution? Expanding hiring pools to underserved communities where they aim to build. But, as was made clear by Amazon’s withdrawal of HQ2 from Long Island City, having buy-in from local communities is not only ethical, it is critical.
Research shows that tech talent exists everywhere; it merely needs to be supported to be successful. As someone who started a non-profit that develops the skills of untapped talent from underserved and veteran communities, I am encouraged that tech giants are committed to diversifying their workforce.
Amazon has a military talent initiative promoting veteran hiring that pledges to employ talent from underserved communities at HQ2, now only in Virginia. From July 2016 to July 2017, half of Apple’s new hires in the US were from underrepresented groups in tech, such as women or Hispanics. Facebook and Google implement initiatives that educate underserved communities in tech skills.
Though praiseworthy, these programs aren’t moving the diversity needle. Among the eight largest U.S. tech companies, only three percent of technical jobs are held by black workers, and women leave tech jobs at twice the rate men do.
Why? Because creating systemic change in a corporation requires more than simply hiring diversity. Corporations need to provide support for diverse employees throughout their entire life cycle at the company.
If properly implemented, diversity efforts could net the IT industry an extra $400 billion in revenue each year. How might Big Tech retain these demographics critical to mitigating their talent gap and diversity problem?
Fix toxic culture.
Major tech companies track retention data, but not all make it public. Perhaps for good reason. In the only study to track why people leave tech companies, nearly eight in 10 employees who left tech jobs reported experiencing unfair behavior or treatment, like stereotyping, harassment and microaggressions. Nearly a quarter of underrepresented men and women experienced stereotyping in the job they left and at almost twice the rate of White and Asian men and women.
Reparations begin with a laser-focus on stripping toxicity from the workplace. Nearly two-thirds of tech leavers indicate they would have stayed if their employer fixed its culture. A popular solution, traditional diversity training, doesn’t always work. Harvard Business Review found it can actually activate bias instead of preventing it.
Focus on efforts that frame solutions in a positive manner and increase contact with different demographics. Programs like mentoring and voluntary training on diversity (instead of compulsory courses) have the most impact.
Prioritize “surround sound” support.
Big Tech needs to partner with organizations that minimize barriers of entry to success, both at work and home. A new hire can experience a culture shock as acute as having never set foot in a corporate environment when they begin working at a major corporation in an office in midtown Manhattan. To be properly assimilated and retained, they need support from every angle.
The key lies in working with workforce development programs that don’t just act as talent pipelines but continue providing support once people from local, underserved communities are employed. These programs can provide soft-skills development, education on proper attire, and additional financial support for issues arising in their lives. Employees can’t be successful in the workplace if they are embroiled with problems at home.
Workforce Opportunity Services, the nonprofit I founded, partners with organizations dedicated to diversifying their workforce and functions as a support system for people in communities that typically lack one. Did a babysitter cancel? We provide childcare. Is an employee struggling to pay for gas, or do they live in areas without public transportation options? We ensure they get to work.
Provide a clear pathway to promotion.
A telling statistic: 83 percent of tech executives are white and are represented at a higher rate in the tech sector’s executives category than the rest of the private sector. Other groups, such as African Americans and Hispanics, are represented at significantly lower rates in the executive category.
Consider the “tech leavers” survey. Nearly a third of underrepresented women of color were passed over for promotion, more than any other group. To retain diverse talent, employees need a clear pathway to promotion into managerial and executive positions.
For an underrepresented group like veterans, rank, hierarchy, and a visible ladder to success are engraved components of the military. Since military members are accustomed to recognition for their achievements, managers should acknowledge a job well done and frequently provide constructive feedback.
Create a clear two- to three-year plan that outlines how employees can advance in the company and be successful. Be cognizant that promotion plans and support requirements look different for each underrepresented group.
Strategically assign managers and mentors.
Pair new hires from underserved communities with diversity champions. This matching process between a manager and new hire is critical, as systemic solutions occur through day-to-day management, not just at the executive levels.
Big Tech should also consider a formal mentoring program to retain minority talent. In a study by Heidrick & Struggles, women and minorities were more likely than the average respondent to say mentoring was extremely important to their career. Mentor programs within organizations boosted minority and female representation by an average of 9 to 24 percent.
Aside from human resources or a day-to-day manager, there should also be someone the employee can turn to at any time. Employees overwhelmingly do not report abuses or harassment to HR for fear of retaliation. Utilize a workforce development organization to provide another mentor who can act as a buffer and resource. Employees can turn to these critical middlemen even after they begin life as a full-time employee.
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