There is no doubt that the tech industry faces a serious gender imbalance. In her Rebooting Representation post last month, Cecily Joseph, Symantec’s VP of Corporate Responsibility, shared some numbers that help us understand the issue more clearly:
- Women hold only 19% of computing degrees
- Only 23% of AP computer science test takers are girls
- Only 26% of the computing workforce is female
- Just 11% of senior tech leadership is held by women
As bad as these numbers are, they are even worse for women of color. This is why Symantec joined the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition, a collection of top-tier tech industry firms that has dedicated $12 million to doubling the number of Black, Latina, and Native American women with computing degrees by 2025.
This is laudable, and it is just one necessary step to promote true diversity and inclusion within our industry. The scope of the challenge is considerable and the ways to address the issues are practically unlimited. That said, as Symantec’s CHRO – and someone with over 25 years of experience in human resources and diversity training – I can recommend some particularly effective places to start.
The scope of the challenge is considerable and the ways to address the issues are practically unlimited.
Get highly visible buy-in at the top
In 2017, Symantec CEO Greg Clark signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge. In doing so, he joined ranks with 450 other major company CEOs who want to send a clear signal to their organizations and the world: D&I matters. When CEOs and boards demonstrate commitment to diversity, managers at all levels will feel motivated to follow suit and foster diversity within their own groups. This sends a strong message to everyone about the company’s culture that will guide expectations and ripple outward.
Set firm, tangible targets
You can’t arrive at a destination if you don’t know where you’re going. Several years ago, Symantec’s demographics were in line with most of its technology peers: predominantly male and white. The company recognized the need to transition to a more diverse workforce, so it set a target of increasing racial minority representation by 15 percent and women in leadership positions by 30 percent by 2020. This is an example of being concrete and clear about expected transformation outcomes and the measurements that will indicate success along the way. These should be SMART goals.
Build in accountability
All change requires accountability. What happens when people do or don’t do what has been asked of them? What are the rewards and/or penalties? Has a system been put into place that accurately and objectively assesses the conditions that trigger those outcomes? How do you move from addressing D&I issues through the lens of compliance, crises, or conflict to a place where the default perspective is a commitment to change? In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need accountability for D&I change, but the reality is that we do. Getting to a place where hiring a diverse team is no longer mandated and where inclusion of people from underrepresented groups is no longer ignored has to start somewhere. And it starts with accountability.
How do you move from addressing D&I issues through the lens of compliance, crises, or conflict to a place where the default perspective is a commitment to change?
Tie your D&I strategy to the business
Framing D&I initiatives and human resources programs as the “right thing to do” to people who don’t see the need is often futile. Much like a kid who can’t understand why he has to floss his teeth, people who aren’t fluent in the world of D&I will come up with all kinds of avoidance tactics to why D&I efforts are unnecessary. If they don’t grasp the need for change, they won’t understand why it matters. Instead, link D&I initiatives to business objectives. Make it clear that they’re not just another HR program, but a fundamental change in corporate culture that will positively impact operations and bottom-line results. Everybody gets that. At Symantec, we created Inclusion Change Teams comprised of company leaders who ensure that D&I efforts dovetail seamlessly with business goals and then promote this awareness within their groups.
Rely on data
Numbers don’t lie. In most D&I efforts, you should expect people to have lots of opinions – and many anecdotal successes and failures. These stories are worth listening to, but keep in mind that anecdotes revolve around emotion. They can often surface biases, and may offer only partial insights into reality. Data, on the other hand, will point out where the true problem spots are and whether they are being positively addressed. By regularly surveying people within the organization with very intentional questions, you can more accurately measure engagement and sentiment on D&I issues. You can turn the data you collect into dashboards so that people have intuitive, visual access to the information, and then distribute these dashboards regularly to company leaders.
Addressing the serious issues of D&I is not easy. You must be willing to stay the course, and be committed for the long haul. The five suggestions above will get you started in the right direction.
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