IT leaders cite skill shortages as a top priority and risk in 2022. Building a team with a diverse set of talents from various cultural and gender backgrounds can bring numerous strategic advantages for a company. However, realizing those goals can be difficult and require new approaches to hiring that often challenge existing processes.
For our latest CXO Insight Call, we invited an excellent panel of speakers including:
- Teresa Shea, VP at Raytheon
- Dr. Diane Janosek, Deputy Director of Compliance at the NSA
- Vimesh Patel, Chief Technology Advisory Defense and Intelligence at World Wide Technology
- Bryan Ware, CEO at LookingGlass Cyber Solutions
- Mary Beth Borgwing, President at The Cyber Guild
- Anoop Gupta, Co-Founder & CEO at SeekOut
Our goal was to really dive into this topic and explore best practices on how firms can really work to go beyond the corporate diversity statement, and create real results.
Why is diversity important?
- Building a Better Business – The data shows that diversity in ideas and thought makes a big difference for the bottom line. “Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not,” wrote Columbia Business School Professor, Katherine Phillips, as she described hers and other research for Scientific American in “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter.”
- Inclusivity and Workplace Appeal – Having a highly varied workforce helps a wider range of employees feel more included and be a part of the conversation – this can be crucial in terms of attracting new employees into the space – particularly gen Z
- Raw Numbers – Appealing to a wider range of candidates enables companies to recruit from a much broader and deeper pool of people
What are some immediate ways to begin developing a more diverse workforce?
- Take a Risk With Talent – It’s hard to hire at the exact level/skillset that you need for specialized roles – instead, consider training employees that you hire at the 85% level – it can be a risk, but also quite rewarding, and it opens the door to a much wider range of candidates. One example might be building out an associate engineering program and just moving further down in the employee life cycle. Grow and develop talent that you will use tomorrow (e.g. a 12-14 week boot camp for recent grads, convicts, or ex-military), then follow them along in their first year of assignments. Can you start with somebody who is not 100% and build in the institutional processes in your org to get them there?
- Get Different Kinds of People Working Together – Companies should be conscious of how their teams are composed and consider the full spectrum of traits. For example, stratifying across ages can be very beneficial – it helps new employees learn, and older employees see things from an entirely different perspective
- Start With Those You Have – Help make your current employees comfortable and excited about being there, and let them know that they have a place to belong. Once that’s accomplished, and employees feel like they are making a difference, the team that you currently have can then reach back and bring in others: The word is out that it’s a great place to be, where people will invest in you
- Don’t Focus on Diversity and Forget About Inclusion – Consider how to make your office a maximally inclusive environment. This extends to concepts such as language–as forming reality through words is important (white list, black list, etc.). How do you make sure that you’re actually setting up everyone for success and not expecting people to assimilate into a culture that already exists?
- Start Today – It gets harder and harder to have diversity the longer you decide that there are bigger problems to solve. And everyone has big problems to solve
- Consider Leaning on Tech – How can technology be an advancing tool to help with this dynamic? While data is everywhere inside the enterprise, when it comes to people, many companies are back to spreadsheets and putting things together. And data can be a true ally for diversity – understanding the talent pools, understanding how to write job friendly descriptions and conversations for managers, etc. Companies are seriously lacking data to help make great decisions. One of our portfolio companies, seekout.com, helps address diversity on the recruitment side of the house in a very in-depth way. Exploring what’s currently out there can be hugely beneficial to your programs.
How can you make the conversation around DE&I more tangible at the executive level?
- Walking the Talk – Does your executive team demonstrate your corporate diversity statement? Do you include a diverse range of hires in succession planning, or even entry level jobs? What are you doing to change the pipeline?
- Time Investment – If executives spend time focused on these initiatives – then it shows that the leadership is truly engaged. Being present even if you are busy is an important element of this
How early in the pipeline do you need to go to attract diverse talent?
You can’t just rely on job boards and wait for people to reply. You have to search, source, find people, and excite them. Recruit for diversity in leadership first – if your leadership is diverse, then they automatically bring in other diverse leaders. Good intentions aren’t enough – making a diversity pledge and hiring a DE&I leader doesn’t necessarily translate into actionable behavior. Having at least underrepresented candidates can make a huge difference.
Proactive college recruiting really helps here as well.
Why don’t we always see the kind of diversity you would expect?
Not everyone has the same level of access to STEM education. An important element to consider in terms of your diversity goals is bringing the data forward – what’s realistic in terms of hiring for a given position? And if you can’t fill people in one role, what other roles could there be open doors for?
There are a lot of pathways to becoming the CEO or an executive leader – they are not all tech founders. So even if the statistics aren’t working for you in CS hires – HR, accounting, sales, marketing, etc. are all needed to make your company successful – so make sure that as you’re building things up, you’re taking advantage of your entire workforce, and building your diversity across it. As you get to your exec ranks, you can then build that diverse board, C-suite, leadership team, etc.
Furthermore, a lot of these imbalances start all the way back in elementary and middle school – STEM has to be promoted with children right off the bat – cyber and IT can be not only fun, but also be very fulfilling in that you can make a huge difference across a broad swath of industries. But today, there are definitely gaps in children’s education. And the research is definitely out there in terms of when you can get children involved in the technology space – usually with boys it’s in high school (as long as they’re interested in 9th grade, and then stick with it through junior year, they will stay with it). With girls, it’s different. You have to really get the girls in middle school – the Hechinger Report covers this in more detail.
How can companies resolve hiring bias and have uncomfortable conversations in a productive manner?
- Reduce Hiring Protocols – Big corporate has so many hiring protocols. You can bring DE&I into a smaller company fairly easily – but the large companies get tripped up by these complicated protocols. There are too many “No”s and you need to get creative about “Yes”es.
- Reduce the Recency Bias – Interviewers tend to have a recency bias – companies look at a candidate and consider what they’re doing most recently. But how can you evaluate potential vs. value-add right now? What has this person accomplished over the scope of their career? How flexible have they been with new roles and opportunities?
How do you make sure that people who you hire from diverse backgrounds actually survive? How do you provide a community for them once they are in?
- Robust ERGs – There should be robust employee research groups inside of a company, and there should be a specific group focused on diversity – their entire function should be to provide a voice to HR or to the CEO for their particular constituency. This helps people think about how their policies impact the company from a diversity POV, a diversity recruiting POV, etc. It’s crucial that robust ERGs are in place and that there is internal support before a company embarks on a huge diversity push
- DE&I Expertise on the Board – The CEO and senior leadership have to reflect and care about this in their day to day actions. You need a diversity expert on the board – or someone who is adept at how to build workforce. Workforce is the biggest expense and asset in any company, and it tends to get glazed over. Furthermore, the C-suite and the board are really important in this conversation – the first thing that people look at is the board and leadership team. Without DE&I it’s kind of an indicator. Great that there’s an ERG and a statement on diversity, but without the cred to back it up, it gives people pause.