The buzz around diversity in tech is bigger than ever and shows no signs of slowing down. Ever since Google released their diversity reports in the fall of 2014, the digital divide has gained a new spotlight. Millions of dollars have been pledged, conferences have been planned, initiatives have been launched, but are we really getting any closer to seeing a well-balanced workforce?
As an Afro-Latina woman and former recruiter in the field, I’ve not only witnessed discrimination; I’ve seen its influence in hiring decisions. Companies seem to be open to changing their methods of attracting and attaining minority talent, but a clear solution hasn’t surfaced… yet. Here are a few misconceptions:
1. It’s a Valley problem.
You often hear about the disparity in the tech as a “Silicon Valley” problem. Although the tech boom arguably started in the Valley, it’s certainly not the only place that tech exists. There are plenty of hubs with the same dismal numbers as our friends under the Golden Bridge. In fact, they have higher populations of minorities. Places like Austin, DC and Raleigh-Durham have a high concentration of tech jobs and are ripe for disruption. By recognizing the issue spans far beyond San Francisco, companies can start to engage with talent in other areas and become more impactful.
2. Hiring a head of Diversity and Inclusion leader will solve your issues.
In fear of bad press, tech companies have been on a hiring frenzy to find heads of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). Unfortunately, many new D&I leaders face an uphill battle internally as they have to justify the need for diversity and implement policies and initiatives that have never existed. To ensure that these initiatives are successful, D&I leaders need assistance from HR, marketing, senior executives and employees. A diverse culture cannot be created by one person, it takes a conscious and consistent effort from everyone on the team.
3. Engineering positions are the only problem.
One of the biggest misconceptions about working in tech is that you have to learn how to code or become a developer to be successful. While women and minorities are needed in engineering, those are not the only opportunities available. Recruiting events and marketing efforts that are made to attract new programmers should also exist for potential product managers, designers, marketers and other non-technical roles. A recent report by Burning Glass shows just how popular hybrid tech positions are.
4. Minorities only exist at historically black colleges and universities.
Attending three HBCU’s to recruit black college students a year is not a real effort. Companies definitely need to have a presence on these campuses, but it’s also important to connect with minorities at predominantly white institutions. Often these students feel neglected in the hiring process and lack access to opportunities that are specific to someone at an HBCU. Campus recruiters must focus on expanding their scope to what colleges and universities they attend and make sure they have a plan to engage with minorities at each school.
5. Your affinity group is doing all it can.
I’m a huge fan of affinity groups. Twitter has their themed “blackbirds”; Pandora has the cleverly named “Mixtape,” while companies like NBCU have as many as 20 different groups. The issue with these groups is their lack of visibility. Anyone outside of the industry probably isn’t aware they exist at all. Women and minorities need to feel like they are joining an inclusive environment even before they apply, so having an affinity group that’s dedicated to helping with recruitment makes all the difference. Host monthly meetups, create an incentivized referral system, look for volunteer opportunities — there are tons of different ways affinity groups can become more involved.
6. Kids are more important than adults.
A lot of initiatives and organizations focus on youth aged between 8-18 or college students. It’s essential to get people excited about tech early on. However, what about the people who have already started their career? Companies often neglect their current employees who would appreciate training on digital skills and opportunities to grow. There are plenty of working millennials and older adults that are great fits for tech positions and just don’t know how to advance. These are people with transferable skills that can come in and immediately make an impact in the workforce as opposed to 10 years from now.
7. It’s a pipeline issue.
I personally hate the term “pipeline” as it insinuates that there are people available or qualified to take on roles in the industry. In fact, minorities are graduating with CS degrees at twice the rate that companies are hiring them. Although major effort in education must be made to put minorities on a level playing field, a lot of the issue in a predominately white male workforce comes from bad recruiting practices. From campus recruitment to improving job descriptions, outreach to minorities needs to be inclusive and a priority.
8. Gender and ethnic diversity are the same.
Increasing the number of white women in tech doesn’t solve the diversity problem, nor does only hiring black engineers. Both of these demographics require specific unique approaches and both are needed. We have to challenge companies to be holistic in their efforts to diversify to make sure we aren’t leaving any underrepresented groups behind.
9. Getting women and minorities in the door is all that matters.
Get more women and minorities in the door and you’re halfway there; create an inclusive environment where they actually feel comfortable going to work every day and you win the game. Minorities thrive in areas where they feel supported and see diversity demonstrated at the top. When people stay at companies and have good experiences, they encourage others to try their chances.
10. Unconscious bias is a real excuse.
Unconscious bias is a cover-up term for discriminatory practices used by companies in their recruitment efforts. For too long, hiring executives have used unconscious bias as an excuse to not acknowledge or try to solve the problem in tech. The “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude is exactly why the numbers look so dismal. Companies must have ongoing training for hiring managers and employees to make sure bias doesn’t exist in the workplace.