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Achieving Diversity: The Role IT Plays in DEI Recruiting

IT leadership must carry its own weight in achieving company diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. Here’s some advice.

Antoine Ferguson

January 25, 2023

5 Min Read
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JakubKrechowicz via Adobe Stock

It’s no secret the tech industry struggles with achieving a diverse workforce. A recent study showed that over the last two years, many tech companies doubled their commitments to support DEI in tech. Despite these well-intentioned efforts, one in four companies reported their teams were more than 70% white, and 73% said there were no Black leaders on their executive teams. According to Harvey Nash’s annual digital leadership survey, the average proportion of females within the technology team is 28%.

While the intent is there, the reality is that tech continues to struggle to achieve the diversity they want. The gap between wanting to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion and making it happen remains wide, and IT leadership has a critical role to play in helping achieve DEI goals.

Establish Recruiter Diversity

One of the most impactful ways to set your company up for DEI success is to ensure the recruiting team itself is diverse. When it’s not, the company is more inherent to bias. While it’s often unconscious, if your recruiters look and think alike, they’ll likely recruit candidates who look and think the same way.  

When asked to help companies struggling with DEI, one of the first places we look is their recruiting team. Often, we find a lack of diversity there.

Recently, a client came to us wanting to increase its female headcount in its tech department. One of our first findings was that all recruiters were male. Before we could even address increasing DEI in their tech department, we had to help them hire more females to the recruiting team. Once we did, we immediately started to see additional females being sourced, interviewed, and offered positions in IT.

When looking to increase diversity among recruiters, companies should look at candidates with non-recruiting backgrounds. Military veterans and spouses are among the candidates who have successfully transitioned to careers in recruiting.

Align With HR

Collaboration between IT and HR is crucial for not only advising on the specific tech skills needed, but the diversity goals for the tech team as well. IT managers should be working closely with HR to share the DEI successes and challenges of their current team, noting which industries they came from and how those skills have helped them in their current roles. This can help the talent acquisition team target candidates with similar backgrounds and work experiences.

It should be standard procedure that IT managers share the DEI makeup of their team with HR, and HR should keep IT leadership informed of the DEI target percentage they are trying to reach. IT and HR also need to work together in formulating the DEI recruiting strategy to agree on goals and a plan of action.

Leverage Data and Define Roles

When IT managers collect and share demographic data from their team, the company can analyze this information and start to build a more accurate picture of where and how they may be falling short. Data doesn’t just make it easier to identify the real issues; it also makes an inarguable case for action. The key is to build your DEI program around this data.

IT managers and their teams can further help recruiters by clearly defining roles and responsibilities for open positions, sharing what the team culture is like, and encouraging panel interviews with a diverse group from the IT team.

Source Non-Traditional Candidates

In a recent report, McKinsey shared that 44% of those surveyed who held tech roles came from non-IT occupations. This means that many professionals currently in tech roles had to learn a new set of skills and did so successfully. Seventy percent of the surveyed workers who moved into tech roles started in either professional services, healthcare, or other STEM fields.

This data set of more than 280,000 tech professionals is proof that choosing candidates based on their potential is just as important as their past credentials. Technical skills can be taught, so look at both internal and external candidates’ soft skills -- more recently coined as smart skills -- and previous successes in past roles, even though they may be outside of IT. This will help expand your company culture and diversity of thought.

Upskilling and reskilling talent enables you to grow your own talent and ensuring this fresh group of tech talent is a diverse mix of professionals will help you better meet your DEI goals. Implement programs that create opportunities where none existed by focusing on social mobility and targeting diverse talent pools.

While sourcing talent primarily rests with HR and the talent acquisition team, everyone on the IT team should be watching for professionals in their networks who could make good tech candidates, and refer them to their IT manager or HR.

Ensure Diverse Interviewers

Just as the recruiting team should be diverse, so should those who conduct the interviews. Panel interviews are an opportunity to include a diverse group from the IT team. The IT manager should suggest a diverse mix of panelists.

After the interview, panelists need to work closely with HR to provide honest feedback on how they feel the candidate would or wouldn’t be a fit in their culture, identify strengths and areas of potential, as well as any foreseen conflicts or challenges.

IT’s role in helping meet DEI goals doesn’t stop when an offer is extended. Once candidates are hired, onboarding and inclusion initiatives should integrate all new hires to the team and to the company culture. Feedback from new diverse hires in both the short- and long-terms will help build on team successes, work on challenging areas, and help with retention.

IT has an important role to play in recruiting for diversity. Partnering with HR and the C-suite is critical to setting a realistic DEI strategy and achieving its goals. A more diverse IT department will see a strengthened culture and increases in innovation, job performance, and company success.

About the Author(s)

Antoine Ferguson

Talent Development Manager, AMS

Antoine Ferguson is Talent Development Manager at AMS, a global talent acquisition and advisory firm. Through upskilling in the area of recruiting, he and his team impact the productivity, culture, and DEI of workforces around the world. 

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