20 Apr 2016 - Digital Strategy // By Productive Edge Team

Addressing the Issue of Diversity in Tech: Overcoming Inclusion Barriers

Our previous post, Addressing the Issue of Diversity in Tech, explained the benefits of diversity in the tech space. The bottom line: businesses gain a competitive advantage by employing diverse teams to create solutions. A study by Harvard Business Review cited in our previous post reads:

We've found that when at least one member of a team has traits in common with the end user, the entire team better understands that user. A team with a member who shares a client's ethnicity is 152% likelier than another team to understand that client.

But now that we’ve established the value, how do we go about creating more diverse technical teams?

One way might be to adjust hiring practices with regard to minority ethnic groups. Studies show that minorities are underrepresented in the tech space compared to the rates at which they are obtaining degrees in the field. According to USA Today and the Computing Resource Association, African Americans and Hispanics compose 2% and 3% of employees in the tech space respectively, while graduation rates for computer science related degrees among these minority groups are roughly twice these figures. So, if minority groups are getting the degrees, why aren’t they getting hired?

One cause may be the industry’s current demographic distribution, making it intrinsically challenging to source qualified applicants from minority groups. This means that it is vital for companies to seek out opportunities to draw from a diverse pool of talent. Moreover, they must develop an inclusion strategy, both externally and internally, to both attract and retain talent from minority groups.

As a part of our inclusion strategy at Productive Edge, we established a partnership with the UIC Black Tech Scholars program. But we knew it wouldn’t be enough to simply attach our name to the program. We needed to find ways to help these students experience what it’s like to be a part of our team at Productive Edge. Additionally, we needed to provide opportunities for them to demonstrate their skill sets so that we could properly evaluate them for open positions on our team.

Our first step was hosting the students in our offices for job shadowing. We organized as many volunteers as would participate in an office-wide event to provide the students with a comprehensive introduction to the web development industry. This event was followed by glowing reviews from our team. Everyone enjoyed interacting with the students, answering their questions and getting to know them personally. Additionally, the students had the opportunity to find out where they would best fit into our team by matching their skill sets with specific roles in the web development process. They networked with team members and practice directors and passed along their resumes to the teams they preferred to work with.

Taking this initiative a step further, on Friday April 1st, we hosted the students from the program and six UIC academic professionals in our office to collaborate with our team for a 24-hour hackathon to create the new website for the UIC Black Tech Scholars program. Teams worked tirelessly through the night, conferring with clients, developers and team members. By the end of the night, the students had created an amazing website for the UIC Black Tech Scholars program.

The larger benefit of this event, however, was the connections that were made. Closely collaborating with the students throughout the night had allowed our team to develop meaningful connections with them. We saw how they interacted with peers and clients under real-world pressure, evaluated alternatives and made decisions. This gave us an opportunity to provide constructive feedback to the students on an individual basis. It also informed our hiring decisions, helping us match students with roles that best leverage their strengths.

Although this is only a starting point, we believe initiatives like this can help level the playing field for minority groups in tech. By connecting with this program and providing opportunities for these students to work with our team, we are beginning to overcome the bias that has resulted from the industry’s current demographic distribution by correcting external inclusion barriers. Moreover, by getting to know these students and welcoming them as a part of our team, we are creating a more inclusive culture internally. On a large scale, initiatives like this have the potential to make a significant impact on the presence of minority groups in tech.

It’s essential for tech companies seeking to achieve diversity to answer two questions: how are you overcoming selection bias in your hiring practices, and how are you fostering a sense of inclusion in your company culture?

These aren’t easy questions to answer, because each organization is different and requires a unique approach. As a starting point, consider what programs you can become involved with that will expose your team to a more diverse group of talent. If you’re located in an urban area, seek out local organizations that serve low income groups and offer to partner with them for a job shadowing initiative. If your team enjoys knowledge sharing, reach out to minority-focused organizations at local colleges and offer to conduct seminars on tech. If you have employees who are active in the local community, ask them about networking opportunities with local minority-run organizations and host an event in your office. Leverage your team’s strengths to create opportunities for your team to draw from a more diverse pool of talent to encourage diversity in your organization.

However you choose to approach the issue, it is vital that we level the playing field in tech. By adjusting hiring practices and creating inclusive workplace environments, we can facilitate the change necessary to achieve diversity. It starts with simple things, like job shadowing and hackathons, and it ends with more powerful teams that can deliver groundbreaking solutions.

If you would like to find out more about the UIC Black Tech Scholars program, contact the African American Academic Network: uicaaan@uic.edu

To find out more about Productive Edge, visit our website: www.ProductiveEdge.com

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Addressing the Issue of Diversity in Tech: Overcoming Inclusion Barriers