Tech is Tough
Technology may be tougher to diversify than some other disciplines. For one thing, IT shops have a history of being largely male in makeup, with a certain boys'-club reputation. The indirect communication of the computer age doesn't help, either, says Lenora Billings-Harris, a consultant and author based in Greensboro, N.C. "It makes the job of achieving diversity and inclusion even harder, because people are disconnected from the opportunity to create relationships," she says. (For more, read "A Tale of Two Cultures")
Yet, IT has real incentives to value diversity, including the fact that technology staffers have to work with people from all over the enterprise, often globally. Shaklee's Harris says he's seen results of dealing with an overseas outsourcer vary, based on the specific individual in charge of the relationship.
Beyond the practical, legal and moral drivers, diversity is a bottom-line issue. IT shops can't afford to exclude large groups of skilled workers. "It's about maximizing talent, which is the core of innovation and competitiveness" says Ted Childs, the former director of diversity at IBM.
But good intentions alone won't enable CIOs to achieve and sustain meaningful gains in diversity, or to keep up with a workforce and a larger society that continue to change over time. "Most people think that if they just get a bit more educated about people who are different from them, everything else will fall into place," says consultant Billings-Harris. "That's a myth. It's not enough."
Thus, many organizations turn to newer, more purposeful approaches to achieving and managing diversity. These approaches include tactical moves, such as changing the way interviews are conducted, as well as structural changes such as the creation of diversity officers. In some cases, senior executives are playing a more visible and sustained role in the effort.
Above all, the shift is toward recognizing diversity as a cultural issue--both the cultures in which companies and individuals operate and the cultures of the enterprises themselves. The goal, SAP's Leong says, is "a cultural evolution" toward a truly diverse workplace.