This article is part of the TechPACT Equity for All Research Series, published by TechPACT (www.techpact.org) and is available for purchase as an ebook on Amazon at Impact Beyond the Diversity Headlines
In the previous article, we explored four key factors that continue to perpetuate institutional barriers and inhibit diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in technology: biased hiring processes; unfair opportunities and recognition; exclusionary norms and rituals; psychologically unsafe workplaces. Together, these forces explain why technology companies continue to significantly lag behind progress in other sectors of the economy 1,—including other STEM disciplines 2 and especially in emerging and growing roles. 3
A 12-STEP PROGRAM FOR REAL CHANGE
Based on the definition of addiction as “a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences,”4our society and corporate America are addicted to cultural biases and institutional barriers that systematically marginalize over 75% of the population.
The best way to address addiction is a 12-step program, and these 12 steps can address institutional barriers to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging that may not be specific to, but are particularly prevalent in, the technology industry.
Critically, these steps represent a more thoughtful and purposeful approach to work that technology companies already do, or should be doing. The typical barriers cited to stop action from being taken—disruption, cost, risk, or controversy—do not apply to any of these steps.
HIRE THE BEST PERSON, NOT THE BEST PERSON YOU KNOW
1. Stop familiarity hires: Look beyond immediate networks and reach a broader audience through networking sites, external recruiters, professional associations, and more representative campuses and job fairs. Simultaneously, reduce the bias toward “top” schools and advanced degrees and almost identical roles in almost identical companies, and focus on what drives success—deep technical expertise, managing rapid and unpredictable change, developing new concepts, and rallying people behind a vision.
2. Anonymize résumés: Given the hiring bias based on names, gender, educational pedigree, race, ethnicity, and even zip codes, ensure that résumés are anonymized to focus only on relevant qualifications and achievements. While this will not address the inevitable “Zoom double take” when people see a person who does not fit their preconceived notions, it will at least get that candidate past the human and algorithmic biases that exclude people who do not fit an arbitrary profile of the ideal candidate.
3. Ensure representative recruiters: To mitigate the remaining human biases in the hiring process, ensure that the panel of recruiters is broader in terms of function, level, and representation than just the immediate hiring manager or leaders in a specific group. This will ensure more balanced input into the candidate’s qualifications and fit based on a broader set of perspectives, and address the risk that team culture in small groups tends to drive homogeneity and lack of openness to new ideas or personalities.
CREATE EQUITY THROUGH OBJECTIVITY AND EMPOWERMENT
4. Create unbiased performance metrics: Behavioral or attitudinal attributes such as showing “initiative” or being a “team player” are integral to current performance metrics, and tend to recognize and reward interpersonal styles associated with specific cultures and identities. This focus on subjective behaviors over tangible and measurable metrics puts people who have different styles and approaches at a disadvantage. If companies focus primarily on tangible metrics, these subjective behaviors are greatly reduced.
5. Broaden evaluation inputs: Evaluation processes limited to immediate supervisors or small teams/groups run the same risk of small-team bias as hiring processes. These limited inputs are also susceptible to some people being better positioned to manage or manipulate perceptions based on cultural affinity or organizational familiarity. Broadening the inputs to peers, direct reports, internal stakeholders, and external customers can provide a more rounded and less biased view into individual performance.
6. Drive equitable opportunities: Leadership roles in teams or projects, or stretch assignments, are critical to career growth. By limiting these roles to people who “look the part” or “talk the game,” companies not only perpetuate cultural biases and barriers that are difficult to overcome, but they also risk overlooking the most qualified candidate for a role. While creating opportunities, leaders also need to encourage people to address self-doubt through open discussion, and create a culture that encourages risk-taking and experimentation.
PURPOSEFULLY CREATE AN INCLUSIVE WORKPLACE
7. Design by purpose: For an industry obsessed with design thinking, technology companies do a spectacularly poor job of incorporating these principles into workplaces. Leaders must evaluate any decision, from something as critical as hybrid-work guidelines to as seemingly trivial as social events, with a lens of, “Is the outcome of this decision going to have the same impact on all?” While you are at it, please create private, all-access restrooms. Cisgender women and men do not like public restrooms either.5
8. Encourage storytelling: People who fit historical norms tell stories all time. No one complains about anyone rubbing anything in anyone’s faces when barbecues or golf or boating or soccer or ballet are discussed. Companies need to encourage other people, especially those who are leaders or role models, to tell similar stories about their lives. This normalizes other life experiences and signals to people who are not routinely included that they too are part of the organization.
9. Don’t call me by your name: It is shocking how often even otherwise supportive people butcher “foreign” or “ethnic” names or use familiar contractions, and make sincere efforts to pronounce European names properly while glossing over continued mispronunciation of others. Even without the associations with conquered and enslaved people being given new names by their oppressors6, pronouncing someone’s name properly is a simple but profound symbol of respect and recognition as a full and equal person.
MAKE PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY A PRIORITY
10. Stop normalizing sociopathy: Technology companies continue to hire and promote people with well-known histories of bullying and harassment. Background checks do not capture these issues and people overlook or even celebrate these as “personality quirks” of high performers. Recruiters need to seek broader inputs from former direct reports and peers, check for publicly available information on terminations, settlements, and lawsuits, and make protecting workplaces from habitual abusers a priority.
11. End the cult of overwork: The reality is that there are times when technology workers, like other essential workers, will need to work long hours and holidays or weekends to address critical needs. However, this does not require that “work hard, play hard” becomes part of corporate culture and values. A mix of flexible work hours, flexible vacation policies, and the ability to “clock off” early or “clock in” late when possible can help restore balance to workers’ lives, and create synergy between work and personal life.
12. Reinforce a culture of trust: Leaders must eliminate disparate treatment of women and racial minorities in terms of attributing credit for successes and providing constructive opportunities for improvement. All people given critical tasks must have the position, role clarity, resources, and governance required to succeed. People who take on additional responsibilities and deliver additional results must see direct translation into promotion and higher compensation. Please make the buck stop where it should stop.
FROM EXCLUSION TO BELONGING
For more than three decades, equal employment opportunity policies, codes of conduct, training, and employee resource groups have tried to address the challenges with diversity in technology companies. While these are important to set the baseline, they represent exactly that: the minimum baseline requirement to be a modern workplace. Companies need to go far beyond this baseline to drive real change that addresses the real challenges that people still face.
Leaders in the technology industry can drive meaningful change for people who need it most through tangible commitments and actions, as outlined above, that will progressively drive diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in technology organizations.
Taken together, these 12 steps can go a long way toward creating workplaces, organizations, and industries that engender a feeling of true belonging among all people. These steps may not address the continuing need for broader, structural changes in organizations and society, but these are the steps companies can start taking tomorrow. Let us begin.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Edward Wilson-Smythe (they/them) is a Director in the Digital Consulting practice of AlixPartners and Head of Research at TechPACT. They are an entrepreneurial executive with proven success in defining and leading business model, product, pricing, customer, channel, sales, and marketing innovation. They harness the power of innovation to drive sustained competitiveness, superior business results, and improved social outcomes by defining and executing digital innovation strategies, solutions and partnerships. These innovations drive positive socioeconomic impacts on ecosystems at the corporate, institutional, social, community, and individual levels. Prior to joining AlixPartners, Edward led Revenue & Growth consulting for Manufacturing, Automotive, Industrial and Technology companies at NTT DATA, led digital consulting practices at Avasant and Gartner, and worked as a consultant at Kearney and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Edward is a prolific author and speaker on topics related to innovation, disruptive change, emerging ecosystems and broader socioeconomic impacts of innovation.
Earl Newsome (he/him) is the global chief information officer for Cummins and the co-chair of TechPACT. He leverages 30+ years of global IT leadership experience with Fortune 500 firms to inspire diverse, multinational teams to achieve top performance and deliver increased value to the business while aligning with corporate culture and organizational initiatives. He leads major transformation initiatives to create a world-class center of technology innovation and operational excellence. He brings passion and focus on improving customer experience, increasing employee engagement, and achieving a first-mover advantage for organizations in highly competitive markets. He drives digital maturity and innovation to large organizations by eliminating silos and implementing clearly defined visions, goals, and strategies. Prior to joining Cummins, Newsome was chief information officer for the Americas for Linde, global chief information officer for Praxair and TE Connectivity, chief technology officer for Estée Lauder, and leader of global operations for strategy and integration at Bowne & Co.
The authors thank the following people for their encouragement, guidance, and input:
Kimberly Saxton (she/her), Chief Executive Officer, TechPACT
Misti Fragen (she/her), Head of Marketing, TechPACT
Faith Hawley (she/her), Head of Programs, TechPACT
Paula Day (she/her), Head of Marketing for Digital and Private Equity, AlixPartners
Sarah Warren (she/her), Head of Talent Acquisition & People Operations for Digital, AlixPartners
Darin Woolvine (he/him), Director, Digital Consulting, AlixPartners
Filip Nemeth (he/him), Director, Retail Consulting, AlixPartners
Terri Hatcher (she/her), Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, NTT DATA Services
Corie Pierce (she/her), Head of Sustainability, NTT DATA Services
Gina Fields (she/her), Managing Director, Health Innovation & President, THRIVE ERG, NTT DATA Services
Janell Cannedy (she/her), Chief of Staff to the CEO & President, PRIDE ERG, NTT DATA Services
Theresa Kushner (she/her), Head of North America Innovation Center, NTT DATA Services
Priya Bandisode (she/her), Vice President, Digital Consulting, NTT DATA Services
Ellen Daley (she/her), former Senior Vice President, Digital Transformation, NTT DATA Services
Aaron McWilliams (he/him), Vice President, Client Relationships, Manufacturing, NTT DATA Services
Supratim Sarkar (he/him), Client Executive, Manufacturing, NTT DATA Services
Chandramouli Mahadevan (he/him), former Client Executive, Manufacturing, NTT DATA Services
TechPACT envisions a world where anyone with a passion for technology has the opportunity to succeed. Founded by a group of impassioned technology CxOs, TechPACT is committed to raising diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) across the technology community.
TechPACT empowers members to foster a culture of belonging by building awareness of diversity and equality opportunities and providing actionable strategies and tools to create inclusion. In their effort to expand the pipeline of diverse talent, TechPACT is inspiring youth to pursue careers in technology and providing resources to support diverse professionals throughout their careers. We support teachers and community outreach programs to enable STEAM programs and partner with organizations who are dedicated to closing the digital divide by contributing funding and/or sharing expertise.
TechPACT creates accountability through community and achieves its mission through the collective efforts of its members. Our members are a community of technology CxOs and leaders committed to making a difference. Members take “The Pledge,” a personal promise to accept accountability and take action to increase representation and reduce the digital divide. TechPACT members recognize themselves as force multipliers and understand that each action they take creates an unstoppable network effect that will benefit the lives of millions across the globe.
To learn more about TechPACT’s mission and to take the TechPACT pledge, visit www.techpact.org.
- US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Diversity in High Tech”, https://www.eeoc.gov/special-report/diversity-high-tech. Compared to overall private industry, the high-tech sector employed a larger share of whites (63.5% to 68.5%), Asian Americans (5.8% to 14%) and men (52% to 64%), and a smaller share of African Americans (14.4% to 7.4%), Hispanics (13.9% to 8%), and women (48% to 36%). In the tech sector, whites are represented at a higher rate in the Executives category vs. Professional roles such as computer programming (83.3% vs. 68%). However, other groups are represented at significantly lower rates in the Executives category than in the Professionals category; African Americans (2% to 5.3%), Hispanics (3.1% to 5.3%), and Asian Americans (10.6% to 19.5%). Only 20% of people in the Executives category in high tech are women, compared to the overall private sector at 29%.
- Maria Temming, “STEM’s racial, ethnic and gender gaps are still strikingly large”, Science News, April 14, 2021. Women are vastly overrepresented in health care, as they have been for decades. They now make up about 40% of physical scientists, up from 22% in 1990. But women constitute only 25% of workers in computer science, down from 32% in 1990. Black professionals made up only 9% of STEM workers in the United States, but this varied from 11% in health care to 5-7% in computer science and engineering. Hispanic professionals made up only 8% percent of people working in STEM. White and Asian professionals remain overrepresented in STEM.
- Leanne Kemp, “Having women in leadership roles is more important than ever, here’s why”, World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/more-women-in-leadership-shouldnt-matter-but-it-really-does/, March 3, 2020. In cloud computing, just 12% of professionals are women; in Engineering and Data and AI, the numbers are 15% and 26% respectively.
RC Malenka, EJ Nestler and SE Hyman, “Chapter 15: Reinforcement and Addictive Disorders”. In A Sydor and RY Brown (eds.), Molecular Neuropharmacology: A Foundation for Clinical Neuroscience (2nd ed.), McGraw-Hill Medical, 2009.
- Harvey Molotch and Laura Noren, “Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing,” NYU Press, Nov 17, 2010.
- Keya Roy, Zuheera Ali, and Medha Kumar, “The racist practice of mispronouncing names”, NPR Seattle, https://www.kuow.org/stories/a-rose-by-any-other-name-would-not-be-me, March 21, 2019. The racist practice of mispronouncing names has evolved from a long history of changing people of color’s names to strip them of their dignity and humanity. The changing of people’s names has a racialized history. It’s grounded in slavery—the renaming during slavery—renaming Americanization schools for Latinx communities and indigenous communities, and so there is a lot of history that’s tied to this practice that is directly tied to racism.