Editorial: Ethnic Diversity in IT Presents CIOs With Challenges

By Eric Chabrow  |  Posted 08-27-2007
The IT profession doesn't look like America, and that costs us dearly.

In "How Diverse Is IT", CIO Insight analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that African-Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented in IT compared with their presence in other professions. Blacks embody 6.5 percent of employed IT managers and staff professionals but 11 percent of all types of managers and staff professionals. Hispanics represent 5 percent of IT staff professionals and managers but nearly 14 percent overall.

There's an imbalance in the number of women working in IT, too. Fewer than 30 percent of all employed IT professionals are women (see "Behind the Decline in Women in IT," June 2007).

What's disturbing about these numbers isn't just that one group is more or less represented than another in IT, but how the IT workforce got to these numbers. Over the past 6-1/2 years, while the IT ranks swelled by 1 million to 3.6 million, the number of women in IT fell by nearly 8 percent and the number of African-Americans in IT plunged by more than 25 percent.

Why such a sharp drop among African-Americans, in particular? Clues can be found in a 2006 survey of black IT managers conducted for the Information Technology Senior Management Forum, a group of professional African-American IT managers, showing that fewer than half the respondents trusted their non-black peers; 43 percent said they had to adjust their personal style to fit in as IT professionals. Fewer than half saw the possibility of advancement in their companies. Not surprisingly, 56 percent said they had considered quitting their jobs in the previous 12 months.

It's not that the mostly white corporate leaders overtly treat minorities differently, one black leader said; they're just unaware of how their company cultures adversely affect some employees.

Perception can be as important as reality, and the concerns expressed in that survey should give CIOs pause, even if they don't think they're being insensitive.

The hard fact is that a significant number of IT pros have left the profession at a time many CIOs complain about the difficulty finding qualified people to fill crucial jobs. Deepening the IT labor pool isn't just a diversity issue: It's an education, public relations and cultural issue, too. Part of solving IT's labor problem is not letting diversity be a barrier.

No doubt a diverse workplace presents leaders with many challenges. But it's incumbent on CIOs to do everything possible to make their organizations an inviting place to work for all.

Please send your comments to editors@cioinsight-ziffdavis.com.