Making the tech workforce more representative isn’t rocket science.
The U.S. tech industry is a $1.8 trillion juggernaut, employing roughly 12 million people, accounting for over 10% of the national economy, and improving our lives in countless ways. I’m still waiting for my flying car, but thanks to human ingenuity, I carry around a supercomputer in my pocket, effortlessly connect with my loved ones, and have unlimited access to a firehose of information — and funny cat videos.
I’m proud to be a tech CEO, but as an immigrant, I’m painfully aware the tech sector is mostly run by — and too often for — white men. The industry’s latest gender-diversity statistics are appalling: Women hold barely a quarter of computing jobs — a proportion that has fallen since 2003 — and account for only 11% of executive positions. The numbers are even worse when it comes to ethnic diversity. At the average tech company, blacks and Latinos account for just 8.1% of workers. From the C-suite to entry-level developers, our industry has a chronic diversity problem, and Big Tech doesn’t seem to have an answer.
But we need one — fast. By 2025, U.S. employers will need 3.5 million new tech workers, and as things stand, at least two million of those openings will go unfilled. My own company is constantly struggling to fill vacancies. Given the low unemployment rate and dearth of American STEM graduates, we won’t have a prayer of solving society’s biggest problems if we continue to squander talent by sidelining gender and racial minorities.
The good news is it’s possible to build a diverse tech company. While there isn’t one right solution, I want to share key strategies that have worked for my company and can hopefully work for you, too. Today, I’m proud to lead a team that is over 60% female, over 40% people of color or multiracial, and a quarter LGBTQ — but we still have significant work to do.
First things first: We need inclusion, not just diversity. What’s the difference? While diversity is about what makes us different, inclusion tackles how to bring these differences together.
Holding regular retrospectives to talk about what works and what doesn’t is a good start, so you grow from a family to a team, and find ways to break down silos. We randomly pair employees using the “Donut” Slack app or host monthly “Table for Four” lunches where a senior leader breaks bread with colleagues from different levels and functions. These events have no agenda. Rather, people are encouraged to have organic conversations, to understand who their colleagues are at their core.
When you start a business, your first hires are a statement of intent, so make sure to bring diverse candidates on board early on. When I founded my company, my first three hires were women, two of whom are nonwhite, and that shaped all our subsequent diversity efforts. A 2019 survey by KPMG shows that 70% of men today think their companies already do enough on gender diversity, but only about half of women agree with them. Hiring women and racial minorities from the start keeps you from growing complacent and creates lasting momentum for change.
It’s also vital to bring diversity into the boardroom. I’ve heard from other CEOs, and seen myself, that elevating women and people of color to boardroom positions is the single best way to turn a company into an attractive workplace for a diverse employee pool. Our first board member, Amy McCullough, helped set the tone at the company and keeps me accountable if I make clumsy hiring decisions. Putting women and nonwhite people in charge of the CEO sends a clear signal to minority applicants that they’ll be able to rise as high as their talent and ambition can carry them.
Hiring diverse candidates takes effort: It’s easy to inadvertently screen out nonwhite, nonmale candidates by filtering résumés based on education and employment history. That’s especially true if you’re using AI-powered recruitment tools, so make sure your recruiting team is mindful of the need to combat both conscious and implicit biases in order to identify a diverse pool of candidates.
Don’t use automated tools to screen candidates: Every application should be vetted by a human. Additionally, make sure job postings focus on milestones, detailing the responsibilities of each role at months one, three, and 12. Framing job postings around what you expect people will achieve, rather than what they should have already accomplished, helps prospective hires imagine themselves growing into a given role. Encourage them to step up and explain how their diverse skills and experiences will help them succeed.
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