The tech industry is well-known for its fast-paced and forward-thinking vibes, but it needs to catch up regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. As some C-suite executives and HR leaders are fighting to position DEI as a fundamental company value, others are taking action by addressing priorities and designing programs that foster belonging, engagement, and collaboration.
Did you know that only 26% of jobs in tech are occupied by women? According to IDG, only 27.1% of tech leaders and managers are female. Following the over-hiring trend happening in 2020, it appears the massive layoffs conundrum of 2022 is about to shatter many DEI policies and programs in the tech industry. Twitter, for example, was accused of targeting 57% of women employees and 48% of men throughout its layoff process when the company let go of 3,700 employees in 2022.
One of our former podcast guests, Emily Firth, Employer Brand and Employee Engagement Consultant at TheTruthWorks, pinpoints the importance of having “an equal parental leave policy in place, so families can choose who to designate as the primary caregiver:.
“When both statutory provisions and employer-enhanced policies provide significantly higher maternity vs. paternity leave provisions, this positions women as the primary caregiver and sets a precedent for long-term imbalances in who works vs. who cares for children. According to Management Today: ‘This trend penalizes mothers via lower earnings and slower promotion rates, creating a “leaky bucket” for employers’ female leadership pipeline. Our analysis shows that without equal parental leave, up to 70% of the UK workplace gender pay gap could persist.’ Choice is key to changing the status quo.”
Age bias – a core barrier that needs to be eradicated
Age bias is yet another concern tech companies should be looking at, as over 78% of older employees argued that they experienced or witnessed age discrimination at work. Women between 30 and 35 years old feel the most pressure as it is assumed that, in spite of their qualifications, their performance levels will be affected if they become mothers. Almost 40% of working mothers need the hybrid work model and 43% felt some form of discrimination at work following being a parent.
To address such DEI concerns (and a lot more), C-suite executives should prioritize their strategies. Highly diverse work environments have been shown to improve performance by nearly 30%. UK airline EasyJet recently launched a campaign targeting people over the age of 47, challenging the status quo and changing the outdated image of cabin crew employees. The aim of the campaign is to prove that the aviation industry can go beyond stereotypes, at the same time providing equal opportunities to everyone with the right skills regardless of age.
And yet, if DEI programs are beneficial, how come organizations still fail at implementing them correctly?
Breaking down barriers – creating a workplace for professionals of all identities, backgrounds, and abilities
Over the years, organizations have shown increased activity and intent on activating DEI strategies. However, data points out that progress is happening at a very slow pace. In 2020, it is assumed that companies spent a total of $7.5 billion on DEI efforts. The numbers are projected to reach $15.6 billion by 2026. At this current pace, Gartner predicts that it will take organizations nearly 151 years to close the global economic gender gap. To create sustainable change, greater clarity is required on what works and what doesn’t.
While the DEI activities proposed and implemented vary by industry, geography, and company, an increasing number of leaders have admitted to the urgency behind, and importance of, taking action to speed progress. A recent report highlights that there are 5 core success factors contributing to making DEI initiatives quantifiable, sustained, and scalable. These are:
The first step in transforming a vision into reality is to identify company-specific DEI opportunities. Following this step, the data should be carefully analyzed to understand the root causes and challenges. Employee feedback surveys and information obtained from interviews and focus groups will paint a clearer picture of what actions to take for DEI to succeed.
US retailer Walmart, for example, launched an initiative aimed at improving social mobility for its workers via upskilling and free education. After conducting an accessibility and equity process assessment, Walmart realized that frontline workers (39% identified as Hispanic, Latino, or Black), were unable to secure higher wages. After conducting a retention diagnostic, the company found out that the root cause was an internal absence of degrees or skill sets required to get promoted. Its initiative to provide free education led to increased retention of 20% of the participants, and a likelihood of promotion of 87.5%.
Overcoming workplace diversity challenges
Over the last decade, organizations have aimed to ensure diversity across various platforms. It’s no secret that diverse workplaces are more productive as they’re made of a divergent mixture of employees with various characters, backgrounds, and personalities. The challenge is diversity is tough to maintain, particularly because there are so many barriers in the workplace.
To solve emerging concerns related to workplace diversity, the first step is to recognize the nature of the problem. Once the barrier(s) has been identified, managers will be able to acknowledge a suitable approach that could help mitigate it. Research shows that the hiring process, for example, is known to be unfair and biased. Whether it’s ageism, unconscious racism, or sexism, the process of getting hired is paved with DEI challenges that need to be recognized and addressed.
Harvard Business School professor, Francesca Gino, mentioned that unconscious biases have a problematic effect on people’s judgment. “Biases cause us to make decisions in favor of one person or group to the detriment of others”. At work, it can hinder diversity, retention, recruiting, and promotion efforts. Left unchecked, it involuntarily shapes company culture.
Every organization has a culture. To make yours authentic, start with building diverse teams. A study done by the BCG (Boston Consulting Group) highlights that diversity boosts a company’s bottom line by as much as 19%. Taking things a step further and increasing diversity among teams further improves innovation and financial performance.
Steps to building diverse teams
Diverse teams are made of people comprising a vast representation of differences. These could come from age, professional background, gender, age, race, culture, or unique life experiences. Building a diverse team yields positive outcomes for employers and employees. For instance, it can improve engagement at work, promote innovation and creativity, or hire & retain top talent. Here are some steps on how to get started:
- Adjust & adapt recruitment strategies and address pain points early on in the process. For example, you could revise your onboarding and interviewing strategy.
- Identify biases within your organization. For example, having no lifts or ramps at the office might suggest that your business is only suitable for a fitter workforce. There might be bias in the leadership structure, too. Having no women team leads could imply that only men get a seat at the leadership table. Having no working mothers over 35 years old as employees could imply your organization only targets younger single women with no responsibilities, heaving shrinking your candidate talent pool.
- Build a flexible workplace by offering a hybrid working environment, reduced time, or part-time possibilities. This will encourage job seekers returning from maternity leave to apply.
- Be open and responsive to the diverse needs of candidates and employees. Although it’s impossible to predict everyone’s needs, it is important to be aware of them. Monthly surveys will help you know if your employees need therapy or access to mentorship programs, for example; or if they could use better resources to help fulfill their daily tasks such as professional training.
- Address different areas of diversity and don’t limit yourself to ethnicity, gender, or race. Consider diversity of life experiences, as well.
Lessons to learn & closing thoughts
There’s a lot we can learn from companies with established DEI strategies and policies in place. EY’s Neuro-Diverse Centres of Excellence, for example, is committed to developing a supportive working environment for people with ADHD, autism, or dyslexia; experiences that may have been a barrier to securing employment. This way, the organization aims to facilitate inclusive development practices, including training, onboarding, and hiring.
Japanese cosmetic multinational Shiseido launched its diversity campaign in Japan in 2017. The aim was to attain a 40% representation of women in leadership roles by the end of 2020, and help women employees advance in their careers. The strategies used included coaching and upskilling, as well as changes in workplace policies, hiring, and anti-bias training for the entire company. After achieving a success rate of 33%, Shiseido renewed its goal to attain 40% by the end of 2026.
To succeed at taking diversity to the next level, the first step is to set clear and realistic goals. Following this step, work to understand the common biases that could impact your organization’s culture. Apply the key success factors mentioned above, and build a custom strategy that will help you create an inclusive work environment with real potential to make an impact.