That said, however, subtle and often unconscious issues that are surmountable contribute heavily to tech industry hiring imbalances as well. “Successful diversity within an organization is bringing in the best people with the best ideas, and that often means looking outside your comfort zone,” April observes. “If you’re in an all-white, all-guy company, the people you interview or choose to interview for a job often tend to be people that look just like you, because that’s your comfort zone.”
Kim Mitchell, vice president of programming and operations at NPower, a nonprofit training provider that helps military veterans and young adults from underserved communities join the technology workforce, suggests watching for “the mirroring effect” to determine if your business has fallen into that trap.
“If you look at your team and everyone looks like you and has the same experience and background as you, then maybe that’s a signal that you’ve not extended your lens to attract [diverse candidates], or even believe that someone with a different experience and profile can be successful,” she says.
Mitchell recommends two actions to anyone who fears unrecognized preferences and preconceptions are influencing their staffing decisions: Face the issue, rather than deny its existence, and ditch the self-recrimination. Implicit bias is completely natural, she says. It only becomes a problem when people refuse to do anything about it.
“They have to make a commitment that they’re willing to look inside of their own practices and assess whether or not it’s happening,” Mitchell says.
Take a clear-eyed look around your office as well, Hopcroft suggests. Supposedly cutting-edge workplaces play a part in the tech industry’s diversity challenges too.
“There’s such high demand for talent these days that companies are focused on making their place the best place possible to work,” Hopcroft says. “Since most of the people are white men, what great culture looks like to them is often beer on tap and foosball tables.” The end result can be a frat house atmosphere that, “if you’re a person of color or woman, may or may not be the most welcoming environment.”
Indeed, an unwelcoming culture more broadly is one of the reasons diversity lags in IT. “You’re going to attract the values you reflect,” Mitchell notes. Businesses that make equity and inclusion plainly visible priorities will inevitably draw more interest from minority candidates and women than those that don’t, and have an easier time retaining the applicants they hire.
Filling the Pipeline
If flawed hiring processes and non-inclusive cultures are the demand side of IT’s diversity problem, a shortage of trained job candidates from outside the white, male mainstream is the supply side. It’s also one small part of a wider issue: An often-discussed “skills gap” has long made finding applicants of any kind for open technology positions difficult, as Hopcroft can attest personally.
“A decade ago, we put out a challenge to grow the tech sector here in Massachusetts by 100,000 net new jobs, and we figured out very early on that growing jobs wasn’t a challenge,” he recalls. “We had plenty of jobs. We just couldn’t fill them.”
Closing the skills gap with diverse candidates is even harder for small IT businesses bound by local hiring conditions than for large recruiters. “They can draw from all over the country, relocate people, and pay for that relocation,” April notes of the technology world’s name-brand businesses. “Small companies can’t. The applicant pool is what it is.”