For advocates of a more diverse tech workforce, the past few months couldn’t have gone much better.
After years of resisting, many tech companies disclosed the demographic makeup of their workers. And they didn’t try to gloss over the fact that most don’t employ nearly enough women, African-Americans and Latinos. Instead, they said they should do better.
So now what?
I don’t have all the answers. And it’s not just up to the companies; they can’t hire more women or minorities until the educational system starts training more.
It’s also not simply a matter of hiring more diversely. There is also the issue of what happens once women and ethnic and racial minorities are working inside firms. Do they take on leadership roles or stall? Do they leave companies and the industry more frequently than white men — the so-called “leaky pipeline” problem?
But what can Silicon Valley firms do in the short term to achieve their goals of having a more diverse workforce?
Here are some suggested steps, based on my reporting about this issue:
First, tech firms should commit to disclosing workforce data annually.
Posting this data doesn’t change anything, of course, but it keeps a spotlight on the issue.
“If chief executives are regularly reporting the diversity data, they will start asking their folks how to make these changes,” said Telle Whitney, chief executive and president of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.
Second, tech companies need to rethink everything about recruiting and assessing someone’s talent.
Some are also looking at a wider range of universities and trade groups to recruit from.I’ve already written how some firms have recruiters look at resumes blind, without indicators of race and gender.
Or, they are trying to reach students at the beginning of their university careers. Piazza Technologies, which makes software for students to communicate with professors, is giving companies a way to contact female students taking computer science classes.
“A lot of companies were started by people who were at universities, so their network is tied to that,” said Liliana Monge, co-founder of Sabio, which trains women, African-Americans and Latinos to code. “It’s easy to go to a college campus and interview 100 people. You need to find new ways of identifying new talent.”
Companies should also broaden the kinds of degrees they consider, say workforce experts, and even the kinds of experience they look for.
At Google, the percentage of hires who don’t have college experience has grown over time, Laszlo Bock, Google’s head of hiring, told The New York Times. A person’s success at Google has more to do with an ability to learn on the fly and solve problems than high grade-point averages and test scores, he said.
Third, and this is hard, companies should start an internal conversation about the firm’s culture, from the posters on the walls to what dressing for success means.
For minority job applicants and minority employees, “every step along the way can be fraught,” said Freada Kapor Klein, co-chair of the Kapor Center for Social Impact. “Make it safe to have people say what’s welcoming and unwelcoming.”
Addressing some of these cultural biases is key for retention, said Laura Sherbin, executive vice president and head of research at the Center for Talent Innovation, a research organization that tracks how women are doing in many industries.
For women, “there is an enormous amount of flight risk in the tech industry,” she said. One solution is for firms to make a concerted effort to value listening to diverse ideas. Women “are finding other sectors that are friendlier to work for, where they listen to their ideas, value their contributions and make it worthwhile to leave their children every day and come to work.”
Finally, share “best practices.”
Easy enough for me to say. Companies risk giving away trade secrets that could help competitors recruit and retain talent.
But there are some simple steps that can lead to big payoffs. At Google, employees can nominate themselves for promotions, and what the company found is that men in technical areas “self-nominated” more than technical women, although women who self-nominated tended to get the promotion more often than the men who did so.
Google’s solution: an email to everybody encouraging them to raise their hand for a promotion. And when it disclosed its demographic information this year, it reported closing the gap between promotions for technical women and men.
A small change, but profound.