How to Launch a Specialized Diversity and Inclusion Program (That Your Company Can Actually Follow)
It seems like every day tech companies are making moves to hire more women or establish diversity and inclusion programs. But, behind the curtain, there are still individuals -- women in particular -- who are plagued with bias, sexism and mistreatment by workers and investors.
A recent Pew research report shows that technology-based roles have climbed 338 percent in the United States since 1990, but only a quarter of those new positions were filled by women. And for those women who do make it in the fields of engineering, science and tech, they're more likely to leave the industry than their male peers -- not because of lack of enthusiasm or passion, but because they face barriers getting to the top (remember the list of best CEOs for women employees? None of them were women).
I know from my own personal experience how challenging the workplace can be for women. In past roles, I've shown up for work meetings or events where people assumed I was the note taker and were surprised when I told them I was the executive running the meeting. I've also been cut off mid-sentence while presenting an idea in team meetings and had others talk over me. Challenges like the ones I've faced are not unique to me and are ones that many women deal with at work every day.
Fixing this persistent problem goes beyond hiring efforts -- it's about constructing an environment that retains top talent, one that is all-inclusive and collaborative. If you're looking to organically establish a diverse yet inclusive workforce that meets the needs of female professionals, you need a grassroots specialized program to make it happen.
Diversity and inclusion is not something you check off and forget about; it takes real and measurable initiatives. Through my experience breaking up the boys' club in tech and facilitating workshops that enable female executives to learn how to own their seat at the table, I've learned what ingredients are helpful to create and successfully launch a diversity and inclusion program. The following are three key pillars to serve as a jumping off point in creating a diversity and inclusion program at your workplace.
The pipeline problem
As companies struggle to hire underrepresented groups in tech, the last thing you want is for individuals to feel like they are a token hire or that the company was only interested in bringing them on to a team as a way to form a diverse workforce.
In tech, we are trying to hire from a very lean pipeline; everyone is going after the same minority groups. As someone who is part of underrepresented groups, I am regularly recruited for certain job roles. Companies need to begin hiring earlier in female professionals' careers where there is a bigger pipeline. Early in their careers, you can bring these individuals into your organization to build and develop homegrown talent and create a more diverse workforce. This, of course, is the long-term game: It doesn't fix the issue right away. But, it does naturally grow your pipeline from within instead of poaching from the outside.
"Diverse" and "inclusive" -- not one and the same
Many companies tout their diversity and inclusion initiatives, but how can one tell whether a program is successful or not? Just because your company is diverse, doesn't mean that it's inclusive. You need to look beyond diversity stats and create a space where everyone can share their ideas and feel comfortable doing so around their peers and executives.
To see if you have an inclusive workforce, roll out employee surveys annually. You want good engagement from these surveys, and the feedback needs to be communicated to leadership. Questions can range far and wide, such as "Do you feel your opinion is valued?" and "Do you feel that your job performance is evaluated fairly?" Companies can also create their own diversity metrics to be reviewed by executive staff, looking at the male to female ratio and how that changes over time, or how many people are staying or leaving your company and the reasons for low retention.
Keep in mind: No amount of diverse hiring is going to move the inclusion needle if your company does not have a growth mindset and your employees do not feel like they belong.
The importance of events for empowerment and education
The reality is, women and minorities experience the workplace differently. They need to feel like they are part of a community in which they feel empowered and inspired, so it's up to executive leadership to retain and develop this top talent.
Managers and executives can accomplish this by creating a safe space for women's voices, like structured mentorship groups or "lunch and learn" events. Companies can also make an effort to create a speaker series by inviting external speakers with a different point of view who can discuss the issues they've faced in their own careers, whether they are established leaders in the industry or a reputable member of the community. Speakers can come in and open up a panel for discussion, tackling specific questions around career challenges and advice for women in the workplace. It is critical that both men and women attend these speaking events to raise awareness throughout the company.
In my experience, it's important to build a network of resources for women of all levels. Set up a network within your organization and bring in functions and departments that wouldn't normally work together. This provides new perspectives and helps women talk about similar challenges despite not having worked very closely together.
Once you determine what these pillars will look like for your company's diversity and inclusion program, the most important step to take before officially launching is to get buy-in from your company's leadership team. Their support will be crucial to the long-term success of your program and will show all employees the company's commitment from the leadership ranks.
The three pillars outlined serve as a springboard for those ready to spearhead their company's very own specialized diversity and inclusion program. Your mission should be to empower women and minorities while retaining and developing top talent. The ultimate goal? Forge a tribe and community from all different walks of life.