How inclusivity will win tech’s talent battle
Organizations are struggling to hire and retain tech talent. A diverse workforce is key to that goal.
During her first week as a product marketer for a technology startup in Silicon Valley, Adriana Gascoigne received a disturbing email. It was from one of the company’s lead engineers. It described in detail his infatuation with how she looked and smelled, and professed his desire to be with her – content so inappropriate that Gascoigne first assumed the email was spam.
“That was the beginning of a whole series of issues,” she says.
In the weeks and months that followed, Gascoigne experienced more sexual harassment, profane language, and a dismissive supervisor who deemed her too sensitive when she raised these problems.
“This wasn’t a conducive work environment for diverse groups of people – specifically women,” she says. “I thought it was par for the course, that I had to deal with it and suck it up. But that saddened me, because I knew a lot of other people who were experiencing the same things.”
"I thought it was par for the course, that I had to deal with it and suck it up."
That harsh realization inspired Gascoigne to found Girls in Tech, a global nonprofit dedicated to creating and nurturing a diverse and inclusive technology workforce. Through online and in-person classes and training, Girls in Tech aims to empower, educate, and mentor women through career development, educational resources, and job opportunities. Since its launch in 2007, the group has grown to more than 80,000 members in 55 chapters across 38 countries.
Today, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are among the most critical issues tech companies face, according to Pega’s Future of IT research report. While the tech industry is slow to make progress, Gascoigne says, the benefits for companies that get it right are invaluable.
The statistics bear that out. Companies that focus on ethnic and cultural diversity are 33% more likely to outperform on profitability, according to McKinsey, while companies with diverse management teams produce 19% more revenue, the Boston Consulting Group has found. Not only that, but organizational teams that focus on diversity and inclusion tend to deliver the highest levels of engagement, according to Deloitte, while diverse teams have been found to solve problems faster than teams of cognitively similar people, Harvard Business Review says.
Despite those undeniable benefits, many tech companies struggle to improve in these areas. Google, for example, only increased the number of women in its workforce from 30% to 32% between 2014 and 2020. Facebook’s percentage of women in the workforce has also been slow to climb, rising from 31% to 37% during the same time period.
It may be because driving improvements in DEI can be tricky. The necessary conversations can be difficult to have. “A lot of people don’t want to talk about it, often out of fear of saying the wrong thing,” says Gascoigne. Executives feel pressure because they realize how important DEI is.
“They’re saying, ‘We have to implement all these different types of tactics and ideas to make sure we’re DEI-compliant,’ to the point where they’re pushing for certain hires even if they don’t deserve the role, which creates controversy and conflict within companies,” Gascoigne explains.
Improving DEI in organizations is a lengthy process. But there are steps companies can take to make progress. Gascoigne says this starts with an audit to understand a variety of factors, including gaps that should be filled to create a better work environment. Organizations should examine policies across the company for opportunities to improve diversity and inclusion, commit to an agenda, and ensure that agenda cascades throughout the organization. They should also launch leadership training, mentorship and sponsorship programs, and employee resource groups.
It may be a hard journey, but it’s a worthy and productive one, as Gascoigne has witnessed firsthand. “Companies are now hiring DEI executives, and they’re holding themselves accountable,” she says. “Things are changing, even though it’s slow. The women-in-tech pipeline is increasing – not just in the U.S. but around the world – and it’s really exciting to see that.”
"Things are changing, even though it’s slow. The women-in-tech pipeline is increasing – not just in the U.S. but around the world – and it’s really exciting to see that."
To help things along, Gascoigne is ramping up for a busy 2022 with new programs, skill-building boot camps, e-learning opportunities, hackathons, mentorship programs, and in-person events.
“We take pride in building a community not only for our members, but also for companies, institutions, government entities, and media networks to work together to create a better workforce culture where equity, inclusivity, and diversity gaps don’t exist,” she says. “It takes a village to solve these programs, and we’re making progress.”