IT Diversity Efforts May Feel Sting of Supreme Court Ruling

Building diversity in IT requires CIOs -- and organizations in general -- to dedicate sufficient time and resources to the effort if they’re serious about change.

Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer

September 5, 2023

4 Min Read
Human rights concept. Gavel and colorful figurines.
designer491 via Alamy Stock

The recent Supreme Court ruling against considering race in admissions policies could impact tech companies’ strategies and initiatives to promote diversity within their IT workforce.

Prior to the decision overturning the legality of affirmative action in university admissions, more than 70 employers, including  tech giants Apple, Alphabet and Meta, issued a letter to the Supreme Court stating that without affirmative action, they would lose access to “a pipeline of highly qualified future workers and business leaders.”

The decision comes at a time where black employees accounted for 8% of the US IT workforce in the last year, while Latino employees also made up about 8% of the IT workforce over the same period, according to a 2022 report from CompTIA.

According to the study, among IT leadership last year, 6% of CIOs or IT directors were Black and 8% were Latino.

Crystal Styron, Gartner senior principal, research, explains some legal and business experts have noted the end of affirmative action may have potential downstream effects for organizations dependent on universities for diverse recruiting pipelines.

“These experts believe that less diverse schools could mean less diverse organizations,” she says.

She notes others say there are other ways of ensuring diversity beyond affirmative action that don’t include an explicit racial component, and so the end of affirmative action will not significantly affect campus diversity.

“Many experts also believe employment practices will be next to face the court’s scrutiny, and the decision on the affirmative action cases will echo in future rulings regarding corporate diversity recruitment and hiring programs,” Styron says.

That relates to whether corporations can explicitly consider race when making recruiting and hiring decisions, as well as internal promotion and other talent-centric decisions.

“Some states have already made moves toward restricting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in workplaces, such as anti-bias training,” she says.

Promoting Diversity in the Wake of the Ruling

Chris Cruz, CIO, public sector at Tanium, says many organizations have created diversity and inclusion programs to recruit and promote minority candidates for professional and executive level positions.

“Most CIOs follow these programs to promote diversity and inclusion and ensure their leaders are applying these principles,” he explains. “Some CIOs take it a step further and ensure that they are proactively engaging and hiring underrepresented groups in both professional and management positions.”

He adds the Supreme Court ruling could impact some organizations who don’t have strong diversity and inclusion programs and may not look to enforce any policies around the recruitment, hiring, and retention of minority candidates.

“Companies could roll back some of their inclusion programs that target minority groups in their recruitment and selection processes, which will lead to continued under-representation within targeted minority groups,” Cruz says.

Leader Say Diversity Efforts Must Improve, Regardless of Ruling

CompTIA President and CEO Todd Thibodeaux explains CIOs should focus diversity building efforts in areas where they actively recruit and must be prepared to accept candidates that don’t fully meet qualifications for the role.

“The best programs that we’ve seen are where companies will partner with local education institutions, not universities typically, but with community colleges, vocational schools and actively cultivate those audiences,” he says. “You must be creative in cultivating awareness and bringing people into your program -- it’s not as simple as just posting an ad on LinkedIn.”

That means working with the local churches, after school programs, different community organizers and local political leaders.

“If you’re a CIO, you must encourage your HR team to be a lot more creative in terms of where they’re going to look for people,” he says. “When you find them, you must have a place for them to get the learning and training, and it’s not a university.”

Creating a DEI Framework

Styron says organizations should focus on creating a DEI framework centered on communication sharing, empathy building and continuous development.

“This strategy allows leaders and employees to feel a sense of purpose and creates a space to support DEI in an intentional way that can jump-start a culture of inclusion and improve employee engagement and retention,” she says.

She also recommends rearticulating and reaffirming the organization’s DEI strategy with senior leadership, ensuring it is firmly rooted in the organization’s strategic priorities, employee sentiment and stakeholder expectations.

“Leaders should clarify their recruiting goals, refine the processes used to achieve those goals, and communicate those processes to other parts of HR, legal and compliance to ensure a diverse and inclusive work environment,” Styron says.

Thibodeaux says improving equality in the IT workforce is going to take a different mindset and will occur over a long period of time.

“But in the short run, if you want to start doing something in a particular local region, it is within your reach to make a difference,” he says. “But it takes a commitment of people and resources.”

Cruz adds the CIO needs to be the champion for those diversity and inclusion efforts and continue to promote these goals and objectives in their respective organizations.

“This is a behavioral change that individual CIOs need to take to heart to ensure they have a diversified and ethnically balanced workforce for those in impacted groups,” he says. “It’s one thing to talk about it, and it’s another to actually execute and bring in qualified candidates to give them a real opportunity.”

What to Read Next:

Achieving Diversity: The Role IT Plays in DEI Recruiting

Diversity’s Crucial Role in AI

Less Talk, More Action: 3 Steps to Diversify the Cybersecurity Workforce

About the Author(s)

Nathan Eddy

Freelance Writer

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.

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