What Can CIOs Do In Order To Increase Diversity In The IT Department?

CIOs know that a more diverse IT department operates better
CIOs know that a more diverse IT department operates better
Image Credit: Oregon Department of Transportation

Would it be ok if we took a moment and talked about diversity? Let’s face it, the world of IT and most of our IT departments are not really models of diversity. For some reason, it sure seems like white males (and a lot of Asians) are the ones who seem to populate most of an IT department and get to work on the importance of information technology. Sure, we all have our token females, blacks, Hispanics, etc. but they are not represented in a way that matches their numbers in the real world. As a CIO, you are probably well aware of the benefits of diversity. What are you going to do to solve your diversity problem?

The Diversity Problem In IT

The IT industry knows that it has a diversity problem. In the past, the papers have been full of stories about sexual harassment at Uber Technologies along with bias in hiring at a lot of the other Silicon Valley companies. The good news is that as of late, some of the big names in the industry such as Alphabet and Facebook have started to take steps to fix this problem. Knowing that you have a problem is the first step in fixing it.

One of the first things that a person with the CIO job needs to be able to do is to create a definition of just exactly what diversity is going to mean for their department. In the end I believe that this is actually fairly simple to do. I believe that diversity simply comes down to creating opportunity for everyone. A lot of companies are trying to figure out where they currently stand in terms of diversity by creating diversity reports. However it’s what they do after that which can become tricky. Many companies like to then set diversity goals that they want to achieve. However, the problem is that this can incentivize the wrong types of behavior. People may start to attempt to meet a diversity target in a way that does not line up with the company’s culture.

In order to determine the scope of the diversity problem that your IT department is facing, you are going to have to take steps to collect information. This means that you are going to have to take the time to meet with people who are located at all levels and in all functions of the IT department. What you are going to want to do is to listen to them. Your goal needs to be to find out what your company has done in order to boost diversity so far. You’ll want to learn what has worked for the company and, of course, what has not worked.

How To Fix IT’s Diversity Problem

Without leadership from the person with the CIO job, things won’t change at your company in terms of diversity. What this means for you is that you are going to have start to do things that will make a difference. The first thing that you can do is to go out and visit all of the remote parts of your IT infrastructure. What you will probably end up discovering is that the staff who are located at these remote locations simply want to be heard. They want to feel as though they are being heard and are allowed to be engaged in this discussion. Yes, the company has probably been saying things about diversity; however, what has been missing is having you actually out there in the field talking with people about diversity.

The next thing that you are going to want to do is to is to collect the information that you are able to obtain by visiting each part of the IT department. Once you have this information, you are going to want to bring it back to headquarters. What you’ll want to do with all of this new data will be to sort through it and then find ways to incorporate it into the IT department’s diversity strategy. It’s only by doing this that you are going to be able to show the people who have provided you with the data that you are listening to them, valuing their inputs, and then taking action to make sure that their needs are being met. In the end, this is what diversity is all about.

In order to determine how your IT department is doing in terms of diversity you are probably going to want to have reports generated. The challenge here is that it is all too easy to get caught up in the numbers that those reports will provide you with. The reports can be good for you – they will provide you with a certain level of transparency. However, it can be too easy to over focus on the numbers in the reports. As the CIO you need to view diversity as being a part of your long term strategy. You won’t be able to see dramatic changes in a time period as short as a year. If that was possible to do, your company probably would have already done it. You need to realize that diversity is hard to do right and it’s going to take some time to get it right. You need to keep in mind that diversity takes on many different forms within the IT department. There are of course numbers, representation, and hiring. However, diversity and inclusion can also be shown through employee participation. You need to make your IT department a good place to be for all people. Getting everyone to come to the table with an open mind is the only way that diversity is going to happen.

What All Of This Means For You

Unfortunately IT departments are not well known for being diverse. All too often they are staffed with white males and just a few people who represent other genders and races. As CIO, you need to realize that you have a diversity problem on your hands and you need to start to take steps to increase the diversity of your department.

The diversity problem in IT is not just a problem that your company is facing. The news has been filled with the problems that the companies out in Silicon Valley have been facing with a lack of diversity. As the CIO you need to understand what diversity is – creating opportunity for everyone. You need to be careful in setting diversity goals in order to make sure that you are creating the correct incentives. Collecting information is the first step in determining how big of a diversity problem you are facing. As the CIO it is your responsibility to solve the diversity problem. You can start by visiting all of the remote parts of your IT organization in order to find out what is and is not working. Then bring this information back to headquarters and incorporate it into your diversity strategy. Doing this will show your employees that you are listening to them. If you have diversity reports generated then you are going to have to be careful to not get caught up in the numbers. Instead, make sure that everyone is keeping an open mind about diversity.

We all know that diversity is a good thing for our IT departments. If we can make them diverse, then we’ll have better ideas, more creativity, and hopefully everyone will interact better. However, creating a diverse IT department will take both time and effort. As the CIO this is your responsibility. Make the time to ensure that your IT department becomes a bit more diverse every day.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: If your IT department is not diverse right now, what would be the best first step for you to take?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Times have been tough for United airlines in the past. There was that event where a passenger was removed from a flight forcibly and everyone filmed it and put it on social media. A bit before that the airline had had to delay 500 of their flights because of a second glitch in two weeks of the computer systems that run the airline. Clearly being the CIO at United is not an easy job. What needs to be done here to get things back on track?