Much press has recently been devoted to the diversity problem in Silicon Valley, but how does the problem pertain specifically to the IT channel?
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Channel firms could do better. At CompTIA’s ChannelCon event, held last week in Austin, Texas, the nonprofit trade association attempted to expose the tech industry’s diversity gap head on and explain the benefits of diversity in the workplace. If channel executives can address this issue honestly today, it will positively impact the future of the industry, fostering more productive workplaces while closing the perceived IT skills gap.
According to Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of CompTIA, the IT industry could create an additional $400 billion in annual revenue if it embraced the scope of the nation’s diverse workforce.
During his ChannelCon 2017 keynote, Thibodeaux highlighted various statistics that spoke to the tech industry’s exclusion of women and minorities. For example, he said if women and people of color were represented in the tech sector as they are in the labor force, the tech sector would see one million more women and 500,000 more Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans in the workforce today. “Put that into context of seven million people working in the U.S. tech workforce; that [whole equals] to 20% of the entire tech workforce,” he added.
The benefits of diversity are far-reaching, he said. For example, data has revealed that workplaces that have a broad set of perspectives, opinions and an inclusive culture can result in faster innovation and better customer insight. Other benefits of diversity he cited are more productive teams, better use of available talent, greater financial returns and market share, and lower turnover. Additionally, diverse workplaces can make it easier to raise capital, he said. “Private equity firms and other people are more likely to provide capital today to companies that have good diversity numbers.”
Todd Thibodeauxpresident and CEO, CompTIA
“More and more research is being done demonstrating the benefits of diversity. And they aren’t just soft benefits, either. Increasingly, these are benefits that really hit the bottom line for companies,” he added.
Thibodeaux outlined five steps that channel executives can take to diversify the makeup of their workforces.
- Focus on unconscious bias. He encouraged attendees to try “making the unconscious conscious” and recognize stereotypes about women and minority groups that might influence their hiring decisions. A common line of thinking that can prevent companies from hiring candidates with identities and backgrounds different from their own is that those candidates won’t fit into the organization’s existing culture, he said. “‘That’s a big way to exclude people: ‘Well, they’re not really a cultural fit.'” Channel companies need to start with a diverse slate of candidates and standardize hiring practices across departments, he added.
- Prioritize diversity and inclusion. Channel executives should approach diversity and inclusion as “a market issue” and invest in outreach efforts. “You have to go out and seek diversity. … You can’t just post the job and expect that [a] diverse slate [of candidates] is going to come to you,” he said.
- Build your pipeline. It’s imperative for channel executives to start searching early for new job candidates. The earlier organizations start, the more proactive they can be in finding a diverse slate. “You might be missing lots of diamonds in the rough here by not doing that, by just posting a job and letting people come to you. You’re probably going to get the same pipeline that you always got, instead of going out and finding a new pipeline,” he said. He also said channel firms should make diversity a part of their company brand and to partner with local diversity groups such as nonprofits and educational groups that can help in their outreach efforts.
- Examine your workforce culture. To do this, channel firms must ensure they offer diversity training, nurture and mentor a diverse staff, and are aiming for an inclusive culture, he said. He noted that some new hires will require more help than others to get started in a workplace and shouldn’t be expected to simply assimilate and adopt the company culture.
- Mentor and connect. He pointed to diversifying connections on social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn as means for channel executives to develop broader world perspectives. “You can experience things that you wouldn’t experience in your day-to-day life,” he said. Mentorship is a “really important part of connecting,” he added. When someone with a different background from your own enters the organization, it represents an opportunity to learn and mentor.
ChannelCon 2017 featured several discussions on the theme of diversity and inclusivity during the event, including a panel discussion where business executives shared their views on why diversity is important to businesses.
“[Diversity] does make companies more profitable. It does give a diverse opinion if we hear from different socioeconomic backgrounds, if we hear from different cultural backgrounds,” said Michelle Ragusa-McBain, segment operations manager at Cisco. “Those ideas, the different experiences that we bring, make companies better.”
“We know that change is good, change is constant, but change is not readily accepted,” added Nathan Archer, director of business development at service provider A&H Technology Group. “In my perspective, what I think we need to do is to educate that culture … and we need to break that open … and rebuild a new culture that is dynamic and … [diverse] to make the bottom line richer.