ARA Chicago

The IT Diversity Challenge

The Washington Post recently published an article by Joann Weiner titled, “Diversity is good. Why doesn’t everyone agree?” In the piece, Weiner sites multiple studies showing that companies who engage women in leadership positions are, on average, more successful and profitable than companies who do not.

Additionally, she states that groups consisting of ethnically diverse members show greater contributions to the fields of finance, education, and scientific research. The article states, “Scientific research is of a higher quality when done by a diverse research group. People work harder, are more creative, and are more diligent when they work with or around a diverse group of people.”

The article goes on to lament that while this research clearly shows the value of diversity in the workplace, many of the largest IT companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. continue to have vastly homogenous workforces.

After reading this article, I became curious as to why this is the case. Is it because, as was stated in a previous blog post, we tend to hire those who are like us? If you put a bunch of white men in an interview situation, do they tend to gravitate towards other white men? Or, is it because we are simply uncomfortable with the unfamiliar? While the article points out a huge problem within the IT industry, it falls short of offering suggestions for how to address the issue.

What will happen if companies do not proactively address this problem? I believe that those who do not have a diverse workforce will be less successful than those that do, as the research in the Washington Post article clearly states. Additionally, companies with vastly homogenous employees risk making a series of missteps when it comes to public relations issues – none more appropriately evidenced than by the NFL’s handling of recent domestic violence issues. Some within the sports industry, such as Sarah Spain, espnW columnist, argue that it was the lack of diversity within the organization that led to the public relations debacle.

So, what can the IT industry do to tackle the diversity challenge? I believe that, in order to find diverse employees, companies must adjust how they search for candidates. HR departments and recruiters can begin by targeting mentorship and networking groups for female and minority candidates. In Chicago, finding female candidates could mean partnering with organizations like Women in Technology International, Ms.Tech, and ARA (disclaimer, I am also one of the founders of ARA). Minority candidates may be found by partnering with local organizations such as i.c.stars or by posting a job in Spanish in a newspaper geared towards the Latino population, such as Extra or Reflejos.

While some of these efforts may take a little more legwork, the payoff of having a diverse workforce is a more successful and profitable company.