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Stop Focusing on the 'Pipeline Problem.' Tech's Diversity Issues Run Deeper. Blaming a lack of candidates for the lack of women at tech companies obscures the real problems.

By Brenda Darden Wilkerson

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It's no secret that tech companies aren't making significant progress toward building diverse workforces. Most companies still measure their improvements in single-digit increments, and executives inevitably blame the lack of women entering the tech industry for their diversity issues.

Related: Instead of Thinking About What She Couldn't Change, This Female Founder Focused On Making Progress

But, let's be real: The tech industry's "pipeline problem" smokescreen prevents us from addressing the true roots of this failure. Yes, there are fewer women than men earning computer science degrees, but that's a symptom of our broken industry. Executives who use the pipeline fallacy as an excuse are fooling themselves, and hurting their bottom lines.

Simply put, we cannot hire our way out of the diversity gap, because women are leaving the tech industry faster than any company could ever hire them. Rather than blaming the pipeline, leaders need to work harder to create better environments that encourage women to stay.

Three initial questions can help you judge the value of your organization's diversity efforts: Are you paying women and men equally? Are you promoting women at the same rate as men? Are your male and female technologists departing at the same rates? Across the tech industry, the answers are a resounding "no."

Related: 4 Proven Ways Women in Male-Dominated Fields Can Establish Themselves and Feel Fulfilled at Work

Just as with any other business problem, we must measure the baseline with both objective data and qualitative metrics, track progress against goals, codify successful tactics and create strategies to improve. As part of our work with organizations that employ women technologists, AnitaB.org consistently evaluates the factors that make a difference in building and maintaining diverse teams. Here's how to move the needle:

Evaluate advancement paths.

When promoting employees to managerial and executive roles, ensure the pool is sufficiently diverse. Challenge leaders to advance more women and people of color, and tie compensation to measurable progress.

Fight implicit bias.

Just as it is imperative to weed out problematic language from job postings, and consider anti-bias tools like blind resume screening, these tactics are equally important during promotion and retention.

Learn from attrition.

Measure exit rates by gender and race. Conduct exit interviews to uncover problems with workplace culture or advancement paths. Ask specifically about problematic areas; don't rely on departing employees to volunteer their issues.

Related: For Decades, These Same 3 Issues Have Held Women Entrepreneurs Back. Here's What You Can Do About It.

Resist the fraternity effect.

Ensure that your most prestigious projects are staffed intentionally. If you discover women and people of color are shut out of the best jobs, revisit team allocation practices to make sure they're equitable.

Double down on flexibility.

Implement programs that give women the resources they need to stay in tech. Returnships -- targeting women re-entering the workforce -- can help diminish hiring gaps. Review benefits and policies to ensure they support women.

Close your pay gap.

Perform a pay equity audit, and move quickly to parity. Then do it again -- this must be a constant process, not a one-and-done moment. Continually re-evaluate recruitment, hiring and advancement data to ensure you stay on track.

Related: Tackling Equal Pay as a Female Tech Leader

Ask, then listen.

Your employees have ideas about what they want from their workplace. Let them offer you input on changes that would help them. They'll tell you what they want, but you also need to be prepared to listen and act upon those wishes.

I'll admit these suggestions are probably significantly more resource-intensive than what your organization is doing right now. But, diversity and inclusion aren't just nice-to-have checklist items; they are business imperatives for companies that want to succeed.

We cannot allow the bogus excuse of "diversity fatigue" to derail us. It's no more acceptable a defense than "innovation fatigue" or "profitability fatigue." Can you imagine if a CEO told investors that her team was too tired to turn a profit, or release a new product? Failure to improve our workforce problems should be equally absurd.

Leaders who abdicate responsibility for addressing workplace inequality are setting their organizations up for failure. As tech industry executives, we can no longer blame outside forces for our inability to create change.

Brenda Darden Wilkerson

President and CEO of AnitaB.org

Brenda Darden Wilkerson is an advocate for access, opportunity and social justice for underrepresented communities in technology. She serves as president and CEO of AnitaB.org, an organization working to shape public opinion about issues of critical importance to women technologists.

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