Solutions for improving diversity in tech

Recently, Facebook blamed its lack of progress in hiring women and minorities on the lack of talent, i.e. problems with the pipeline. Some experts disagree, citing computer science graduation rates twice the amount of women and minorities actually hired in the tech industry. We have work to do, and it starts with current leadership understanding that visibility matters when it comes to innovation today and improving the talent pipeline for tomorrow.

Women entrepreneurs across the political spectrum have been cheering that the glass ceiling is cracking just a little more as Hillary Clinton is poised to be the first woman to become the presumptive presidential nominee for either major political party in the United States. Research has shown that visibility of women leaders in politics boosts opportunity for women currently in leadership and women who aspire to lead in the future. Studies suggest that women in political power boost educational aspirations and achievements of young women as well as provide role models that inspire women to perform better and reach for higher levels of management.

However, we need to ask ourselves about the visibility of women in leadership positions within our own industry. What is the downstream impact of women in leadership in technology?

First, a look at the numbers per the National Center for Women & Information Technology:

  • 17%: percentage of women earning bachelor’s degrees in computer science in 2014, nearly 20% fewer women than 1985
  • 25%: percentage of women in the computing workforce in 2015

    • 3%: African-American women

    • 5%: Asian women

    • 1%: Hispanic women

  • 17%: percentage of Fortune 500 CIO positions held by women in 2015

A 2012 study out of Columbia University suggests that business is missing out on $42 million through limited female leadership. This is the increased in S&P 1500 firm value where women hold top management positions, including and up to the CEO, when the focus of the firm is on innovation. McKinsey Global Institute research suggests that gender parity in the workforce could add $4.3 trillion to the US economy by 2025. Some research has shown that more women on company boards increase profitability as well. Visibility matters when we are potentially  leaving millions in profitability and trillions GDP growth on the table.

Can women in tech leadership inspire more women to reach for higher levels of management and boost educational aspirations, just as women in political leadership have? It seems possible that women’s leadership in tech could influence business now and bring more women into the fold in the future. Venture Capitalists and CIOs should take note of the potential for innovation and financial growth that could be missed by a lack of women’s leadership now and in the future.

Increasing women in technology, as well as their visibility, is a massive new opportunity for technology companies. So, what should technology leadership do to improve their workforce diversity?

Prioritize diversity in professional experience as well as a greater variety of skill sets when hiring.

Look beyond traditional job descriptions when hiring, sponsoring, and promoting - think in terms of skills and what diverse experiences candidates bring to the table. This leads not just to diversity, but to greater innovation as well.

Build and sustain an innovative, collaborative, and diverse culture.

A culture invested in innovation will actively require a diverse workforce to meet business needs because diversity makes us smarter, increases our creativity, creates better products, and sustains an open, collaborative culture. Tech leaders in the C-suite need to role model and visibly support diversity initiatives by making a serious commitment to encourage others within the organization to shift their thinking. Talent management leadership will need C-suite-supported influence to expose and help change hidden mindsets that hinder organizational diversity goals throughout organizations.

Fund startups led by women.

Companies are going to be making strategic investments - make an effort to seek out diversity in leadership while doing so. This increases access to resources, opportunity, and funding that usually falls toward overwhelmingly white and male-led startups.  

Consider setting specific numeric objectives.

If places like Facebook are having trouble improving the representation of women and minorities in their workforce, while implementing the changes above, companies may need to consider setting specific numeric goals for diverse representation (not unlike goals a company would set for profits or sales). Diversity objectives should be transparent along with the plan and steps an organization will take to achieve them.

*Note: A version of this post appeared on CIO.com on 21 July 2016.