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Leveraging the Power of Diversity

By James Collins, CIO, State of Delaware

James Collins, CIO, State of Delaware

Leveraging the Power of Diversity

Diversity and inclusion (DI) in the information technology (IT) field is a subject that has garnered a lot of attention in recent years due to insufficient availability of diverse talent to address increasing demands for digital services. Innovation has fostered the globalization that is driving diversity across the nation. Said another way, technology has changed the world for good. These societal changes have altered the demographics, norms, needs, and desires of our customers to the extent broader thinking is warranted to address current requirements. Today’s leaders must be intentional about focusing efforts that promote inclusiveness in such a way that not only attracts great talent, but embraces cultural diversity and creates an environment in which everyone feels belonging, respected and valued. Raising awareness about diversity, or lack thereof, has helped to drive some change in our industry but we still have a lot of work to do. Numerous studies demonstrate the positive impact DI has on employee engagement, private sector profits, and government services. We need to view the value of diversity and inclusion as an imperative that requires new strategies to enable the organizations we are responsible for leading can deliver better results.

With the increased demand for skilled IT professionals we have to stop solely relying on traditional tactics like passively posting positions we assume will secure the “most qualified” candidates and instead get innovative when it comes to marketing, recruiting and keeping talent. We can learn from creative examples, such as the Google in Residence program which embeds engineers on campuses to teach courses at historically black colleges; most notably at Howard University. Earlier this year Google announced that it is was expanding that effort to recruit more software engineers by opening a three-month computer science residency known as “Howard West” at its Mountain View campus this summer. I know some may be thinking, “That would be great except we are not the private sector.” I get that, but there are things that we can do — like building relationships with higher education institutions, creating internship programs, and developing associate level positions to attract and grow talent. Here in Delaware there are several IT training initiatives including ITWorks, Zip Code Wilmington, The Precisionists, Inc. and DigiGirlz that have great potential to help us hone and recruit talent from traditionally underrepresented groups for a future workforce pipeline.

"Innovation has fostered the globalization that is driving diversity across the nation"

ITWorks and Zip Code Wilmington both are immersive job training programs that use intense curriculums to teach programming and computer skills. The Delaware Department of Technology and Information (DTI) has not only been a strong advocate for the programs, but we have also recruited diverse talent from IT Works already.

Another unique organization engaging in efforts to expand opportunities and break down barriers for people with disabilities and veterans is The Precisionists, Inc. (TPI). A national Delaware-based organization formed in 2016, TPI uses accelerated training programs to collaborate with companies to match them with worker’s specific skill sets for technology jobs in areas ranging from data entry, quality control, indexing, programming, hardware and software management. TPI is on a mission to change workplace culture by focusing on every person’s abilities, not their disabilities.

In partnership with corporate partners like Microsoft and others, DTI has continued to sow seeds for the future through the DigiGirlz program to inspire girls to pursue careers in STEM fields. The event offers girls in eighth and ninth grades the opportunity to share in hands-on activities in different learning tracks such as application design, robotics, cyber security, mobile forensics and more. The hope is to contribute to the positive trend demonstrated in recently released data that shows a 135 percent increase in female students, and 170 percent increase in underrepresented minorities enrolled in Advanced Placement Computer Science courses from 2016 to 2017.

While diversity can sometimes be an uncomfortable topic for some, and the challenges to change feels insurmountable, deliberate actions do yield results. I am heartened that DTI has made progress when it comes to increasing employees’ cultural competency and diversifying our organization —with minorities making up nearly 34 percent of our workforce and women representing 35 percent. However, we know those numbers are not where they need to be and there is a lot more work to be done reap the benefits of diversity for our organization and state. Our best shot for remaining competitive is to embrace operating in a diverse global economy. The more authentic dialogues we have about inclusiveness in our organization, the more productive and engaged our people will be. To truly see innovation growth for ALL those we serve there must be diversity reflected in our workforce. When barriers are removed the results are a culture that allows people to flourish, increased engagement, higher retention and better outcomes. Here are a few steps that have helped organizations walk the walk and achieve results:

1. Know your numbers by meeting with your human resources team to gain understanding of diversity across your organization and what inclusive activities are occurring. Leaders should be regularly briefed on progress.

2. Ensure your strategic priorities include DI statements and key objectives that are communicated as expectations for your leaders.

3. Make sure your leadership team itself reflects diversity and inclusion, which sets the example for the entire organization.

4. Get a presentation on your recruitment strategy to ensure it is diversified to include internships, relationships with colleges and training programs, and targeted advertisements for job postings.

5. Observe who is assigned to your most important projects to ensure they too are inclusive.

The information you glean from these steps will likely require you to personally be disruptive to current processes and culture, but it’s worth it because there is a definite correlation between employee and customer satisfaction. I’ll leave you with a word of caution to focus on the outcomes and value of diversity, not simply define it or be numbers-driven. Diversity done right unites us and we are stronger together.