Nationwide conversations surrounding racial equality have exploded in the past several months, rightfully defining diversity as essential business practice. As leaders, technology executives are responsible for building a foundation of diversity and inclusion that allows employees equal opportunity for growth, collaboration, and innovation. 

 Still, many executives have cited shortcomings with existing Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) programs. In a poll taken at HMG Strategy’s 2020 HMG Live! San Francisco CIO Executive Leadership Summit on July 23, 43 percent of technology executives who attended cited a lack of executive sponsorship as the top limitation to current D&I programs. Meanwhile, other respondents pointed out that most diversity programs simply aren’t creating diversity while others noted that hiring targets are aimed at the executive level and that more opportunities need to be created at lower-level positions.

During the recent San Francisco CIO Summit, industry luminaries engaged in a compelling panel discussion on the topic. Top-tier technology executives who spoke on the panel, which was skillfully moderated by Tony Leng, Managing Director, Digital Transformation and CIO Practice Lead at Diversified Search, shared their insights on what can be done to strengthen existing D&I programs and to make workforces more divergent and inclusive.

“We need to get to a point where our companies are leading by example,” said Rashmi Kumar, SVP & CIO at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. “Establishing a culture of inclusion starts at the top.”

The COVID-19 crisis has created opportunities for leaders to implement positive change. And as racial inequalities continue to capture national attention, innovative executives are taking actionable steps to strengthen a culture of inclusion. 

Opening the Door to Diversity 

In order to create a diverse workforce that values the strengths and perspectives of every employee, leaders must radically rethink how they make decisions in the hiring process.

“People hire people who look like them,” said Shadaab Kanwal, Executive Leader of Digital, Data, and Analytics Services at Charles Schwab. “You need a willingness to create a sense of flexibility and challenge your conscious and unconscious bias. Inclusiveness only happens when we are ready to embrace that idea.”

As with many business practices, traditional recruiting has its place. But with remote recruiting already changing the face of the search industry, now is a great time to consider innovative recruiting tactics. Encouraging diversity and new pathways to employment may not only change company culture for the better, but also address the long-standing shortage of STEM skills. 

“There is no way to recruit our way out of this shortage,” said Shamla Naidoo, Managing Partner of IBM Global Security Services at IBM Corporation. “We need new pathways to employment, some without advanced degrees. We don’t have time to wait for people to go through degree programs, and many people don’t have the time or resources.”

“Doing the heavy lifting to create security talent is not negotiable if we want a chance to solve the skills shortage,” said Naidoo. “We must introduce vocational and other non-traditional forms of skills development.”

It’s also important for leaders to leave their bias at the door and recognize that promoting diversity and inclusion does not mean lowering the bar for potential employees. While many potential candidates may not have advanced degrees or expansive technology experience, these may not be the most important skills for success. Considering applicants with vocational training is just the beginning.

“As leaders, we need to be open to alternative approaches to measuring competency,” said Earl Newsome, CIO, Americas IT at Linde.

“School provides a foundation, but it doesn’t bring every component,” said Kumar. “I need people who can connect the dots across teams, from supply chain to customer service. We ask, `Do we have people eager to grow and commit when technology is growing and changing quickly?’ It’s very hard to teach that.”

Still, progress toward diversity doesn’t end at recruiting. 

“Diversity is being invited to the dance, inclusion is being asked to dance, but collaboration is being involved in the decisions,” said Newsome. “Inclusion is those collaborative actions.”

Diversity & Inclusion also makes economic and financial sense, as it provides earnings opportunities for underrepresented communities in the workforce, said Kumar. “That is the only way we will improve consumption in this country, and it will result in better GDP growth for economies. The fact is that if GDP grows by 3% every year, then income for the working class doubles every 10 years.”

To truly commit to diversity, leaders must ask themselves what they are doing to include diverse perspectives as part of their decision-making. This often looks like mentorship, sponsorship and development opportunities, allowing a diverse spectrum of employees to have visibility in the company. 

“Inclusion is an action that unlocks the power of diversity,” said Kanwal. “It makes sure that different perspectives are brought to life. People need to feel that you’re open to their ideas and bring them into the circle to be a problem solver. It’s these goals of inclusion that let you retain diversity.”

Widening the Lens: Increasing Diversity through Community Involvement 

To ensure opportunities for diversity and inclusion, executives need to think big. This means going beyond the boardroom and getting involved in the community. Almost all federal programs that receive funding for education require or involve college attendance, an experience that may not always be accessible. Targeting programs to underserved communities creates much needed talent, and also provides opportunities for those who may not have previously been considered due to their educational background. 

IBM pioneered the Pathways to Technology (P-Tech) program, which operates in underprivileged and underserved high schools. It provides additional STEM education along with a normal high school curriculum. When students graduate, they receive both a high school diploma and an associate degree. IBM also sponsors a number of technology apprenticeship programs, which have few academic prerequisites but does require passion and commitment. IBM hires the vast majority than of the students who go through the apprentice programs, and the number of apprentices has been increasing each year.

People come into these programs, after acquiring skills they may leave to work somewhere else,” said Naidoo. “But so what? We increase the skills and talent of the industry at large, and we uplift the entire community in doing so.”

To view more of the thought leadership shared he 2020 HMG Live! San Francisco CIO Executive Leadership Summit, click here.

To learn more about upcoming HMG Live! CIO and CISO Summits, including our upcoming 2020 HMG Silicon Valley Global Innovation Summit on August 27, click here