Mike Drew, Partner and Head of the Global Technology & IT Services Practice at Odgers Berndtson, explains how tech companies can increase diversity in their leadership teams
It’s no secret that for most technology companies, diversity at the leadership level remains a serious challenge. While the diversity ratios are moving in a positive direction, most tech companies are still struggling to bring a balance to their leadership teams. The problem is rooted in the nature of the diversity challenge. There are no silver bullets or overnight fixes for leadership team diversity. Solving the problem requires sustained commitment, over a long period of time, with dedication from both the CEO and the board.
Because of its moral and business-critical significance, Odgers Berndtson recently worked with BoardEx to identify the most effective approaches to increasing diversity at a leadership level. Following a survey of over 600 Board and C-suite members, the research pinpointed key I&D recruitment and retention initiatives being used by the UK’s most diverse organisations.
I’ve outlined these initiatives below and explained how technology companies can use them to increase diversity on their leadership teams.
Develop diverse talent networks
When the time comes to make a leadership hire, having access to a broad network of leadership talent means you have more opportunities to select from a diverse range of individuals.
There are two ways you can achieve this. The first is by building professional networks within the technology industry and its adjacent sectors. This will broaden your pool of potential candidates. The second is to partner with search firms who have a proven network of diverse leaders from which they can draw upon, on your behalf and hold them to account. The last method also has the advantage of providing you with evidence of carrying out placements of diverse talent from wholly inclusive shortlists.
However, simply having access to diverse talent networks is not enough. When the time comes to make a leadership hire, you need to ensure that the brief is as inclusive as possible. Many tech companies still use traditional role profiles and conservative requirements around experience and credentials. To free yourself from this, you should be looking at candidates across sectors, geographies, and ownership structures. Good talent can be incredibly mobile and is often found in unexpected places. Just because their background doesn’t fit the traditional role requirements, doesn’t mean that they don’t have the competencies and potential to do the job.
Partner with outreach programmes
Our research shows that the UK’s most diverse organisations form partnerships with I&D membership bodies and outreach programmes. This includes professional networks for underrepresented leaders, mentoring initiatives aimed at diverse talent, and industry events for specific diverse groups. These types of organisations give a voice to and raise the profile of underrepresented individuals.
The importance of partnering with these organisations goes beyond broadening your talent pool. It demonstrates that your company is taking positive action towards increasing diversity and creating opportunities for underrepresented talent. What’s more, it helps you build a brand that resonates with diverse individuals. So when it comes to a new leadership search, you are far more likely to attract a diverse range of people.
Introduce mentoring programmes
Difficulties progressing through an organisation and overcoming the glass ceiling is one of the most common hurdles preventing diverse individuals from reaching leadership positions.
One very effective solution to this problem is mentoring and coaching programmes. They are particularly effective at developing individuals from middle management to director level. This level is often a choke point for diversity in an organisation yet is where you can find some of your most talented future leaders. Introducing mentoring and coaching for underrepresented groups is a strong statement for inclusivity in your company. It shows a clear commitment to individuals from diverse backgrounds, making you far more likely to retain your diverse people.
A mentoring programme specific to the tech industry is Rebus. The programme partners experienced mentors with women aiming for executive roles. Roughly 200 mentors, split between men and women, are chosen to ‘sponsor’ female mentees who they believe will benefit from mentoring. The idea is to transfer knowledge and expertise from experienced leaders to talented female professionals, with the aim of helping those women to progress to more senior positions.
Set diversity targets
What gets measured gets delivered and if your company is at the early stages of its diversity journey, targets are one useful way of ensuring the whole company stays focused on this critical agenda. What’s more, when they’re made public, diversity targets provide an accountability mechanism that enacts positive change.
However, simply setting diversity targets doesn’t mean you will achieve them. Creating an inclusive culture is necessary if you want diverse hires to stay with your company. It takes any new hire two weeks to get a sense of belonging. If this doesn’t happen, then they almost always make the decision to leave within the first six months. It means that if you want to achieve your diversity targets, you need to invest in creating the right culture.
Reduce unconscious bias in recruiting
Our research shows a clear link between the UK’s most diverse organisations and those that have introduced methods to reduce unconscious bias. Among the most common of biases in recruitment is ‘affinity bias’. This is the unconscious preference for candidates who display similarities to the person or group hiring them. These similarities can be anything from socioeconomic background to race and gender.
One way of reducing this type of unconscious bias is by using psychometric testing. This is a scientific method of measuring an individual’s skills and behavioural traits against those of the current leadership team. It means that tech companies can augment their current leadership skills mix with the specific skills and behaviour types that they may not currently have. Importantly, psychometric testing forces those involved in the hiring process to focus on capability, knowledge, and potential. It disconnects those conducting the hiring from the personal similarities they may be drawn to in a candidate and instead places their attention on the individual’s skills.
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Building diverse leadership teams is not just a moral imperative; it is now a necessity for business success. However, it’s important to recognise that most tech companies cannot achieve this overnight. It requires sustained commitment over many years, using a multifaceted approach, and with clear sponsorship from the board and CEO. What’s more, the journey is just as important as the end result. Being transparent with your employees, admitting you don’t have all the answers, and demonstrating that you’re making an effort are critical steps in creating a more inclusive and diverse company.