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7 secrets of highly diverse companies

Sharon Florentine | Sept. 11, 2015
Diversity's a major issue in IT, but some companies just seem to 'do diversity' better than others. What's their secret?

They constantly question their own assumptions and biases

Companies that "do" diversity well aren't afraid to examine and acknowledge their own preconceived notions, assumptions and biases, and then work to address those if they're negatively impacting diversity in the workplace. These organizations are continually asking themselves if they're unconsciously excluding potentially great talent because of unconscious bias, and then looking at what they can change internally to rectify those blind spots. Charles Eaton, CEO of the Creating IT Futures Foundation, the philanthropic arm of CompTIA, which aims to increase diversity in all areas of the IT industry, shared a particular anecdote about one particular client who was very concerned that he wasn't hiring many women -- this client ran a small managed service provider and was very engaged in hiring more female engineers. When Eaton's team started looking at his interview process, it turned out that the first question he was asking everyone in an interview was, "What kind of gaming rig have you built?"

It's human nature to gravitate toward what's familiar, and to repeat what's been successful in the past; seeing your biases and understanding their impact on diversity is a crucial factor for success. "In this case, he'd hired a few very successful, very high performing male engineers who happened to be avid gamers. They both had their own custom-built gaming rigs at home; this person had made the assumption that, to be a great engineer, you had to have this interest, this skill set, and wasn't aware until we talked about it how negatively it was impacting talent acquisition," says Eaton.

They work hard at being diverse

Unconscious biases, the IT skills gap, incredible competition for talent, cultural mismatches, a lack of diverse applicants, a homogenous pipeline - working towards diversity is hard work. Companies that succeed in diversity recruiting and hiring know that diverse candidates aren't just going to show up on their doorstep; the company has to make an extra effort. "You must actively search for and recruit from underrepresented groups. Are you looking into the local chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers? Do you have a corporate partnership with Women in Technology? Look hard at local chapters of these organizations. It'll require more effort and energy, but that's what it takes," says Eaton.

They recognize a broader definition of diversity

For enterprise training solutions platform Mindflash, an emphasis on unorthodox leadership is where diversity starts, and that "outside the box" mentality filters through the whole organization. Diversity here means not just race, sex or education, but work experience and background, too, says Mindflash CEO Donna Wells. Two of the company's recent hires include a former restaurant manager and a professional cyclist -- not exactly the prototypical IT background.

 

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