Reaping the Rewards of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

With its focus on continuous innovation, the tech industry is perfectly positioned to advance real change -- if it’s willing to embrace it

Ryan Whitacre, Partner, Bridge Partners

April 20, 2022

5 Min Read
diverse hands surrounding a lightbulb
fresh ideas via Adobe Stock

The contrast between the tech industry’s growth -- the sector employs a quarter of U.S. professionals and about 5% to 6% of the total labor force -- and its lack of minority representation is staggering. Black Americans represent just 7% of the tech industry labor force, Latinos 8% and Asian Americans comprise only 14%. Lack of representation at the executive level is most stark -- with Asian Americans holding 11% of tech leadership roles and Black leaders a measly 2%.

By addressing implicit bias in recruiting and rethinking talent pipelines, the industry can start to close this gap. The real work, however, comes after a hire is made. To ensure retention and longstanding change, tech companies must take a more active role in ensuring minority leaders succeed. And due to its ethos, tech is primed to produce positive results on the diversity front faster than any other industry.

The Tech Industry Was Built for Diversity

The tech industry is all about trying, failing, and getting better. That’s the only way to keep up with the speed of technological change, shortened product life cycles, and global competition. Why not take the same approach to people policies and recruiting practices?

In the spirit of shaking things up and winning -- values embraced by Silicon Valley -- tech firms should embrace seeking out and bringing in new ideas and perspectives. When hiring, instead of pursuing those who best “fit in,” seek out those who bring additive qualities and experiences to the existing group – people who might disrupt any groupthink percolating in the room.

In cold business terms, data from McKinsey reveals that companies with diverse workforces are 36% more likely to financially outperform their peers. For tech companies set on going public, regulations such as the NASDAQ board diversity rule mean they must recognize the value -- and necessity -- of diversifying their senior leadership teams.

Understanding the Impact of Implicit Bias: The How and Why

Given the financial benefits alone, it may seem hard to believe that the industry still suffers from such an incredible lack of diversity in the leadership ranks. Yet, research reveals that 67% of tech professionals report that their leadership teams are a quarter or less Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). In the same study, 45% of BIPOC respondents noted that unconscious bias plays a major role in interviewing and hiring. This is compared to just 27% of white respondents.

Hiring managers and internal talent teams may instinctively go to the same schools or personal networks when looking for outside candidates. While these approaches are natural, such inherent bias naturally results in a narrow band of people considered for any given role.

Within their own walls, tech companies should look at policies and practices when promoting internal talent. Such a lens can be used to uncover and account for the various unwritten rules within a company that eliminate certain employees from moving onto the executive path. These biases dictate who gets the stretch assignments, who is given the opportunity to shadow the top leaders, and who is given the assignments that carry more weight.

Recognizing that implicit bias exists is the first step forward. The second is intentionally addressing such bias. This may include consciously seeking out external partners who are committed to sourcing from different candidate pools than those traditionally utilized and adopting new approaches to building talent pipelines.

No Pipeline for Minority Tech Leaders? Build Your Own.

The notion that there is a pipeline problem for minority talent has been debunked by countless studies and research. But public perception holds that there is a dearth of minority talent at all levels, especially in the executive suite. Tech organizations may perpetuate this myth by relying on the same universities, programs, or companies as their only sources of high-caliber talent. The result: same begets same, which makes it unsurprising diversity numbers remain so low.

Boards, CEOs, and hiring managers must break down these barriers and biases by taking a new approach to building talent pipelines. For example, tap into the wide array of diverse talent for C-suite roles such as chief marketing officer and chief people officer where skills are transferable across industry and sector. When you strip down to the core skills required for a position, you may open up the available external talent supply and even begin to build your own from internal employees seeking to grow.

The Work Doesn’t Stop After a Hire Is Made

Diversity without inclusion is just a numbers game. For tech companies that have hired minority leaders, the hard work truly begins when that executive onboards. Firms cannot expect these leaders to perform miracles, shoulder the DEI burden for the entire organization, or succeed in an unsupportive environment.

Systems must be in place to support any new hire for the first 60 – 90 – 120 days, but they require more thought when intentionally bringing in an executive who might be the first, only or one of few minorities in the organization. Dropping in that leader without support will virtually guarantee their short stay. Consider, instead, providing such leaders with a board sponsor or a dedicated peer ambassador to help them navigate the organization initially.

Internal culture, marked by a commitment to sustaining an inclusive and supportive environment, is perhaps the most important factor to ensuring success and retention. Think about it this way: Inclusion leads to diversity, not the other way around.

The tech sector is at the forefront of so much possibility, which is why so many flock to it. Harnessing that same spirit of change can make tech the leader in diversity -- if it wants to be.

About the Author(s)

Ryan Whitacre

Partner, Bridge Partners

Ryan Whitacre is the Chicago office leader at Bridge Partners, a minority-owned, boutique executive search firm with a mission to diversify corporate leadership teams. A strategic advisor and talent-spotter to hiring managers and search committees at Fortune enterprises, private companies, and major nonprofits, Ryan is dedicated to running a truly inclusive process to discover an array of diverse talent for each engagement.

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