The tech industry has created tremendous efficiencies that have accelerated business growth and innovation while capturing wealth. In the last decade, there has been a growing interest in diversifying this industry that has such an impact on how we work, communicate, and consume products and services. Yet, increasing the diversity in the tech industry has been elusive and challenging.
Companies have expressed interest in finding diverse talent but often seem to come up short – stating that they cannot find qualified talent, or, as some executives I’ve talked with have stated recently, “they just simply don’t exist.” Concurrently, many candidates from underrepresented communities have difficulty finding opportunities and gaining employment – due to implicit and explicit bias in the hiring process and a lack of exposure to hiring managers and decision makers. At the same time, current tech professionals continue to do more and more with less and less.
There are some key steps that can be taken to create an attractive, inclusive environment that will help increase the diversity of the tech industry. If we all make the effort to do our part, we could see a significant change in a short amount of time.
Here is what current job seekers can do to enter this space:
- Network, Network, Network. In today’s world, networking is crucial to finding the next employee opportunity. Gone are the days where you can run to Kinkos, print reams of resumes, and expect to get a job. Today, you have to connect with people and find the opportunity that works for you. Learn to find people you want to know and connect with them. Even in the pandemic you can meet with people over Zoom or Google Connect. Put yourself out there so opportunity can find you.
- Look for ways to share your experience and build skills to help you become marketable. While you are searching for your next role, take the time to share your skills in a way that helps an organization. Help your neighborhood store with their website. Show your church how to use email marketing to reach more people. Volunteer to work with a nonprofit to help with their tech needs. These experiences will not only help keep you sharp, but they will open opportunities to connect with people in ways that could lead to job opportunities.
- Stay current on the latest trends and tools in your field. You have to stay on top of the trends in your field in order to stay marketable. Take courses on LinkedIn Learning or YouTube to stay knowledgeable of current tools. Read blogs and listen to podcasts from thought leaders in your space. Connect with other professionals and talk about the latest tech topic and how it could have an impact.
Employers and hiring managers have a responsibility as well as a part of this journey:
- Create and maintain an inclusive workplace that attracts diversity. The number one thing a company can do to help attract diversity is create an inclusive environment. People from diverse backgrounds are not coming to a place where they can’t thrive, add value and be themselves. In the book “Drive” Daniel Pink talks about the three things every person needs to be motivated to do a thing intrinsically – mastery, autonomy and alignment with purpose. Create a work environment where people of diverse backgrounds can see themselves become and remain successful.
- Go where diversity is to find diversity. If you continue recruiting at the same institutions or other less diverse places expecting them to all of a sudden become more diverse, then you are wasting your time. You have to go where diversity is. In the Twin Cities, that means you have to visit different schools and colleges to find talent. You could tap into the network of HBCU graduates and professional organizations like TECHQUITY to help you.
- Creating onboarding practices that cultivate a welcoming environment. When you find diverse talent that is interested in coming to your workplace, treat them with respect, dignity and enthusiasm. Make sure every part of the onboarding process helps them adjust to your organization. I’m a fan of “swag bags” and small promotional items that tell your new candidate that you are happy they decided to come and work with you. You must realize that the war for tech talent is real and anything you can do to create the ultimate candidate experience will give you the competitive advantage you need in the labor market.
The last piece of the puzzle is with the tech professionals within the industry. Here is what you can do:
- Connect with people that don’t look and sound like you – expand your networks. In order to increase the diversity of the industry, the professionals in the industry need to diversify your professional and personal networks. Take the time to connect with people who are different from you. Have coffee and lunch with prospective candidates and people interested in learning more about what you do and how you work. Make the time for informational interviews that help job seekers learn more about your organization.
- Volunteer at middle and high schools to share your career journey. Many critics say that the lack of diversity in the tech industry is due to a pipeline problem – however the same critics don’t do anything to address the pipeline problem. They expect talent to just appear. To address this dilemma, tech professionals can visit high schools and middle schools to share your experience. Go and talk about tech to get them interested in what you do. Go to the schools where diversity is and get them to talk about what they are working on.
- Find ways to mentor youth and young adults in high school and college. When you find a person to mentor that is interested in the tech industry, take time to help them with career development and exposure to opportunity. Work with them to cultivate their skills through unique experiences that allow them to relate to the field.
I’m sure if we all took the time to implement some of the tips shared here, we will be able to improve the pipeline of diverse talent to the industry, be able to present diverse slates of qualified talent for roles and enhance the professional and personal networks of tech professionals that will lead to discovering opportunities and making connections with diverse talent to those roles.
David Edgerton Jr., is the founder and managing principal of The DEJ Group LLC, an executive search and recruiting firm dedicated to uncovering the real needs of organizations and bringing forward a diverse set of candidates with an array of backgrounds and experiences.