The tech talent shortage is very real — and may be worse than most people think. In one survey of more than 3,000 tech leaders,
65 percent said hiring challenges are hurting the industry.
In a conversation with BizTech, Susanne Tedrick, a cloud platform technical specialist with a major technology company and author of the new book Women of Color in Tech, argues that leaders need to get more creative in their recruiting strategies and do more to support the success of a diverse workforce.
BIZTECH: Are businesses doing enough to recruit diverse workforces into technical jobs?
TEDRICK: They are definitely doing more than in the past. Businesses understand the strategic and financial imperative, and they are doing more with diversity and inclusion programs.The problem is they don’t go far enough. At times, the effort comes off as a marketing ploy versus something that’s meaningful. I applaud the fact that they’re putting more into these programs, but more needs to be done.
BIZTECH: What else should they be doing?
TEDRICK: They need to rethink their hiring approach. One thing I see very often is people talking about “culture fit” — as in, “I don’t know that this person will fit in with our culture.” And I don’t know that that’s necessarily holding that particular candidate to the same technical metric that you’d hold someone else to. If someone is from a different background or has different life experiences, they may not seem like a good cultural fit. So there’s automatically that bias. We should rethink that as we recruit people.
Then, once you get women and people of color into these workplaces, businesses have to make sure that they’re building an inclusive workspace. That means having difficult conversations about whether different programs are working and making sure that, when you recruit people, their positions are such that they have agency to make decisions and that they feel like they’re contributors. It’s incumbent upon leaders to have those honest conversations and make those continuous improvements as necessary.
BIZTECH: Given the shortage of qualified technology workers generally, shouldn’t businesses be focusing more squarely on this issue?
TEDRICK: Right, it’s bizarre to me. One study by McKinsey in 2018 found that companies that don’t have diversity of race and gender tend to underperform by 29 percent in terms of profitability. So, there’s proof that it’s ridiculous not to strive for diversity, yet some of the things I see and hear in the industry — it really is counterproductive. I think people genuinely want to get there, but there’s more heavy lifting to be done, and sometimes I wonder if businesses and professionals are engaging in those conversations and taking up those actions.
"It’s incumbent upon leaders to have those honest conversations and make those continuous improvements as necessary," Tedrick said.
BIZTECH: Are businesses typically looking in the right places for qualified candidates of color?
TEDRICK: No. People tend to rely on, “Well, this is where I went to school,” or, “I graduated from this program so that’s where I’m going to look.” To build a diverse workplace, you have to meet people where they are. That means going to the historically black colleges and universities, it means potentially looking at boot camps or other experiential learning programs. It’s about stepping out of the box in terms of your thinking about where the ideal candidate comes from.
But even if you’ve done all that and you’re still not getting the level of candidates that you want, what’s preventing you from building the candidates you need by having an apprenticeship program in partnership with a local college? It’s really on businesses, if they’re not finding the talent they want, to broaden their horizons and maybe be a little more creative.
MORE FROM BIZTECH: Learn how a diverse workplace culture can lead to a smooth digital transformation.
BIZTECH: Why did you write this book?
TEDRICK: Three reasons. First, for myself and for others who want to go into tech, there’s a question of what that means. Many people think a tech career is either computer science and coding or traditional network engineering. Those are great options, but I wanted to give a little more clarity to the diverse array of opportunities available to use those hard technical skills as well as the so-called softer skills, like communication and leadership.
Second was to prepare people: If this is something you’re interested in, how do you pursue it? How do you get your foot in the door?
The third thing was to talk very honestly about some of the issues that women of color in particular face in the industry. We traditionally talk about racism and sexism, but there are other things that get overlooked. For example, many women of color are coming into these roles without a good support system, from a professional network or within their own lives or community. So, just having very honest conversations about some of the other things that may keep women of color from being successful, beyond the things we hear about more commonly.
BIZTECH: What do you hear from women, especially women of color, about their work lives in technology roles?
TEDRICK: Women have wide-ranging experiences. I have one colleague, a woman of color working in an all-male field — it’s literally just her — and she feels like she’s never been discriminated against and that her coworkers have her back. Then there are others who feel they have condescending remarks made to them, often very subtly, or they feel they have to work 10 times harder to be respected. And they’re not always getting the support they want. Someone might say, “Well, this part of the job and this is kind of what it is,” and that’s unfortunate. So, I’ve seen the entire spectrum.
BIZTECH: Do you have any advice for IT directors who are struggling to recruit and would like a more diverse team?
TEDRICK: Make sure you’re expanding where you’re trying to seek candidates. Make sure you have sound recruiting practices that are not biased, even unintentionally, against any particular group. And once you have someone in there, take their pulse: Do they feel included? Do they feel valued? And be prepared to have honest conversations. It’s uncomfortable talking about these things. But my unique lens on the world is mine alone and the only way you can understand it is if we have a dialogue.
I would say to CIOs and other tech leaders: Listen. It can be uncomfortable, but you need to listen to understand so you can find a place where you can move forward rather than being defensive. That’s incredibly important to make sure these diversity programs work.