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Making the tech workforce more representative isn’t rocket science.
The U.S. tech industry is a $1.8 trillion juggernaut, employing roughly 12 million people, accounting for over 10% of the national economy, and improving our lives in countless ways. I’m still waiting for my flying car, but thanks to human ingenuity, I carry around a supercomputer in my pocket, effortlessly connect with my loved ones, and have unlimited access to a firehose of information — and funny cat videos.
I’m proud to be a tech CEO, but as an immigrant, I’m painfully aware the tech sector is mostly run by — and too often for — white men. The industry’s latest gender-diversity statistics are appalling: Women hold barely a quarter of computing jobs — a proportion that has fallen since 2003 — and account for only 11% of executive positions. The numbers are even worse when it comes to ethnic diversity. At the average tech company, blacks and Latinos account for just 8.1% of workers. From the C-suite to entry-level developers, our industry has a chronic diversity problem, and Big Tech doesn’t seem to have an answer.
But we need one — fast. By 2025, U.S. employers will need 3.5 million new tech workers, and as things stand, at least two million of those openings will go unfilled. My own company is constantly struggling to fill vacancies. Given the low unemployment rate and dearth of American STEM graduates, we won’t have a prayer of solving society’s biggest problems if we continue to squander talent by sidelining gender and racial minorities.
The good news is it’s possible to build a diverse tech company. While there isn’t one right solution, I want to share key strategies that have worked for my company and can hopefully work for you, too. Today, I’m proud to lead a team that is over 60% female, over 40% people of color or multiracial, and a quarter LGBTQ — but we still have significant work to do.
1. Look beyond diversity
First things first: We need inclusion, not just diversity. What’s the difference? While diversity is about what makes us different, inclusion tackles how to bring these differences together.
Holding regular retrospectives to talk about what works and what doesn’t is a good start, so you grow from a family to a team, and find ways to break down silos. We randomly pair employees using the “Donut” Slack app or host monthly “Table for Four” lunches where a senior leader breaks bread with colleagues from different levels and functions. These events have no agenda. Rather, people are encouraged to have organic conversations, to understand who their colleagues are at their core.
2. Start early
When you start a business, your first hires are a statement of intent, so make sure to bring diverse candidates on board early on. When I founded my company, my first three hires were women, two of whom are nonwhite, and that shaped all our subsequent diversity efforts. A 2019 survey by KPMG shows that 70% of men today think their companies already do enough on gender diversity, but only about half of women agree with them. Hiring women and racial minorities from the start keeps you from growing complacent and creates lasting momentum for change.
It’s also vital to bring diversity into the boardroom. I’ve heard from other CEOs, and seen myself, that elevating women and people of color to boardroom positions is the single best way to turn a company into an attractive workplace for a diverse employee pool. Our first board member, Amy McCullough, helped set the tone at the company and keeps me accountable if I make clumsy hiring decisions. Putting women and nonwhite people in charge of the CEO sends a clear signal to minority applicants that they’ll be able to rise as high as their talent and ambition can carry them.
3. Hire better
Hiring diverse candidates takes effort: It’s easy to inadvertently screen out nonwhite, nonmale candidates by filtering résumés based on education and employment history. That’s especially true if you’re using AI-powered recruitment tools, so make sure your recruiting team is mindful of the need to combat both conscious and implicit biases in order to identify a diverse pool of candidates.
Don’t use automated tools to screen candidates: Every application should be vetted by a human. Additionally, make sure job postings focus on milestones, detailing the responsibilities of each role at months one, three, and 12. Framing job postings around what you expect people will achieve, rather than what they should have already accomplished, helps prospective hires imagine themselves growing into a given role. Encourage them to step up and explain how their diverse skills and experiences will help them succeed.
Finally, when you want to bring a candidate on to the team, put your money where your mouth is. Studies show that women can be reluctant to negotiate when it comes to salary, so it’s up to employers to be proactive about erasing the pay gap. That doesn’t mean just giving female and racial-minority hires a decent salary from the get-go – it also means reevaluating salaries over time and making sure discrepancies don’t creep in as you hire white men who are comfortable pushing for higher pay.
4. Take HR seriously
When you’re scrambling to launch a startup, it can be tempting to put human resources on the back burner and focus on other priorities. Resist that temptation. Your organization is only as good as your people, and your people are only as good as the HR processes and policies you put in place. If remembering people’s preferred pronouns or figuring out a way to provide meaningful parental-leave policies seems difficult — well, nobody said running a business would be easy.
The painful truth is women quit tech jobs almost 2.5 times as frequently as their male coworkers. That isn’t because they don’t have staying power; it’s because most American workplaces are designed by and for white men, leaving women and ethnic minorities feeling like they have to check their values and life experiences at the door. To keep gender and racial minorities in the workforce, we need to do a better job of creating safe, equitable spaces for all employees — and that starts with taking HR seriously.
Make a point of trust with your employees by offering generous, gender-neutral, and flexible paid leave to allow workers with different needs to thrive.
5. Keep getting better
Diversity doesn’t happen by accident: You need to have a plan, and you need to keep on telling people — both inside and outside your organization — about that plan. Collecting and sharing data about your workforce, hiring practices, and compensation equity is a good way both to blow your own trumpet and create pressure for further change. Try holding all-hands meetings where you consistently drive home your commitment to being a diverse and welcoming workplace. Let your workers anonymously submit and vote on topics for discussion at those meetings, ensuring leadership is held accountable and that everyone gets a chance to be heard.
Remember, too, that your prospective employees won’t necessarily trawl through annual reports in search of pie charts and trend lines. Use other opportunities, from job fairs to commencement speeches, to spread the word about your commitment to diversity.
Diversity is always a work in progress, not simply a box to be ticked off and forgotten about. Solving the tech sector’s diversity crisis will take more than just self-congratulatory annual reports — it will take an ongoing commitment from leaders at all levels to figure out where their companies are, what they’re good at, and what needs to be done better.
Xiao Wang, co-founder and CEO of Boundless Immigration.
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