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Improving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Hiring, and Initiatives in Tech & AI Companies

Most technological innovations throughout history aren’t credited to solely one individual – they are often the result of collaborative efforts. However, the pool of talent in the tech world remains rather homogenous – predominated by Caucasian men. There have been attempts to make the tech and AI industry a little more varied in gender and race by introducing initiatives such as DEI – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity – and yet, many companies maintain a laissez-faire attitude toward these practices. While the sentiment behind the acronym is generally understood – championing those who are otherwise overlooked due to variables out of their control – DEI initiatives are still approached as a moral imperative, charity cases, a way to boost public relations efforts, or as a means of avoiding lawsuits for discriminatory hiring practices. 

Catalyzed by George Floyd protests 2020, tech employers pledged to adopt mindsets and initiatives that would make their workplaces more diverse

Since the pandemic and 2020 protests around racial injustice and police brutality (sparked by the George Floyd killing) ignited an explosion of long-overdue conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion in the tech industry. Then, tech companies pledged both publicly and internally to make diversity in the workplace, gender equity and inclusion policies a higher priority. But according to a State of DEI in Tech in 2022 report published by BuiltIn, although many companies did double their commitments to support equity and inclusion in tech there were also many areas that still need improvements. Some of the gaps in gender equity and inclusion include that: 

  • One in four of the companies they surveyed said their teams were more than 70 percent white 
  •  73 percent of respondents said there were no Black leaders on their executive teams 
  • 39 percent of women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) employees surveyed said their voices and perspectives didn’t feel included in the decision making process at their jobs.

What is Inclusion In Tech?

Inclusion is the sense of belonging employees feel in any given environment. In the workplace, it means that as employees do what they were hired to do, they also feel safe to be their most authentic selves and they’re accepted now matter what. It can also mean that employees feel a sense of connection to their colleagues who may, or may not, come from similar backgrounds. The more diverse an organization gets, the more important inclusion becomes. And inclusivity is crucial not only for diversity efforts to succeed, but to create an inclusive culture that’s beneficial for both employee engagement and productivity

DEI Impacts Hiring and Retention 

Employees are not afraid to leave an employer if: they don’t see diversity in the employee base, they feel their employer’s DEI initiatives aren’t up to par or if they face discrimination in the workplace. The State of DEI surveyed report found on the candidates perspective that “an average of 55 percent of professionals say that a company’s DEI initiatives and diversity on its interview panel are very important to them when considering a role.”  

Diversifying your talent pool introduces many benefits to your company or upstart as the industry continues to evolve and innovate at lightning speed. For starters, your team is only as good as your roster. Recruiting the best minds the world has to offer encourages setting aside unconscious bias that’s prevalent in the tech industry and expanding your hiring criteria.

You can also approach this attitude from another angle: Inclusivity inspires innovation. By committing to a more open-minded and tolerant work culture with leaders and employees that share the same values, you’re cultivating a melting pot that’s bubbling to the brim with ideas. 

This approach can dismantle barriers and build bridges, creating an environment that fosters acceptance; thus encouraging those of various age demographics, ethnicities, genders, and disabilities to pursue a career in tech and AI. Boston Consulting Group found that organizations whose staffs exhibit above-average diversity are more innovative and more profitable. Mykaela Doane, head of people and talent at a company called Gtmhub told BuiltIn “when DEI is strong, people are empowered to do their best work — free from stress, distraction and harm that results from prejudice, bias, unfair treatment or the feeling that they have to assimilate or hide their true selves in order to be successful.”

In the grand scheme of things, those who benefit from DEI initiatives the most are the consumers – specifically from a UX or User Experience standpoint. The lack of accessibility can be detrimental to a company’s image and success if demographics unaccounted for deem that particular product or service impractical. In tech, UX design often includes accessible features for various disabilities such as visual & auditory impairment; learning/cognitive impairments, photosensitivity (epilepsy), and environmental challenges (EX. using a mobile device in an area with poor reception).

That goes without saying, there is an opportunity to collect significant data to use in product development. Really understanding your audience and introducing a plethora of ideas from various backgrounds during the User Experience development process can quell issues that may exacerbate for both the company and consumers before it even happens. 

Leaders and employees in the field of technology aren’t the only ones that benefit from DEI initiatives. As previously mentioned, technological advancements are a synergetic effort – an accumulation of various ideas and perspectives. Making space for those who can provide well-needed insight in brainstorming sessions and product development proves favorable for both talent and consumers. 

Advancing Diversity in Tech Leadership   

The tech industry is still predominantly white and male, despite employers reporting a more diverse workforce year over year.  “A lot of companies focus on reaching representation goals by hiring people into entry level roles, and They may report great diversity numbers, but all the representation is at the bottom,” said Ivori Johnson, the director of DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging), at Charthop. 

It is well understood that leadership teams set the tone when it comes to company culture and values. But when it comes to diversity, many C-suite teams fall short. According to the State of DEI report, around 31 percent of employers said their executive teams were at least 80 percent white men and only 7 percent have collected demographic data on their board of directors. So in order to advance more diversity and equity into the tech industry, many companies will have to take a good look at their leadership teams and make sure there’s a seat for everyone at the table.

Sharing and Leveling up DEI Reporting Metrics 

The State of DEI report also found that only 37 percent of employees who responded to their survey said their company reports on DEI metrics. Yet, 25 percent of candidates prioritize companies in their job search that report on DEI metrics publically; another 34 percent prioritize those that are transparent about employee demographics. Collecting data might be a great first step, but not sharing it causes even bigger problems. And employers are starting to take note of this. Furthermore, 45 percent of employers believe that collecting and reporting on DEI metrics is a key factor in the success of their business and overall employee engagement. If collecting and reporting on DEI metrics hasn’t been a priority yet, it should be now.  

Support Employee Resource Groups 

One of the most impactful ways to encourage inclusivity and community building in the workplace is through ERGs. ERGs, or employee resource groups, are company sponsored spaces where employees from a multitude of backgrounds can form friendships, bond over shared experiences, host fun company events and give back to their communities. 

At large, employee resource groups are a reliable way to increase support in the workplace. Around 90 percent of leaders currently sponsor them within their companies, according to the Wall Street Journal. But the survey found that in tech only 44 percent of employers are currently building out diversity ERGs within their companies. ERG’s are proven to be beneficial to employee wellbeing and performance. Around 50 percent of employees say the presence of an ERG would make them more likely to remain at a company, according to the Harvard Business Review. But employees aren’t the only people who benefit from employee resource groups.

Conclusion 

One of WLDA’s goals as an organization is to empower and improve parity and equity in senior tech leadership roles within Fortune 1000 companies. It’s vital that everyone in the tech community has equitable access to the roles, career advancement opportunities and workplace experiences that make tech a fulfilling place to be. 

WLDA is on a mission to help progress tech companies forward, creating a better, more diverse, more equitable, more inclusive, more creative tomorrow.  Want to learn more about the WLDA platform benefit”s and programs such as our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion coaching?  Reach out to start a conversation. 

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