Demystifying the Problem of Diversity in Tech

As the tech sector becomes an increasingly important job sector for Americans, the lack of diversity and underrepresentation of minorities is becoming more apparent, and not just in Silicon Valley.

The Professional Diversity Network, a company specializing in diversity recruitment for corporations, government agencies and job seekers, reports on the statistics in the tech field. Asians and Caucasians dominate the industry, but every other group is underrepresented. While women and Hispanics together make up more than 63 percent of the overall workforce, a mere 14 percent work in the IT sector. Furthermore, African-Americans’ unemployment rates in this sector are disproportionately higher, regardless of education level and in spite of an increased number of college grads. This is not due to a skill or education gap, but a problem in identifying qualified minorities.kevinwilliams

Kevin Williams is the chief marketing officer at Professional Diversity Network, with varied experience managing brand and campaign strategy at firms like the Coca-Cola Co., FIFA, Subway Restaurants, Verizon Wireless and BMW of North America. A graduate of the University of Illinois and avid world traveler, he’s become a diverse and skilled marketing executive.

Diversity Executive had the opportunity to speak with Williams about diversity in the tech sector. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

How do you know that the problem is not lack of qualified women and minorities, but something on the tech companies’ end? 

Professional Diversity Network’s Diversity Jobs Report is an analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data that allows us to shed light on the employment situation for diverse candidates in the United States. Our insights were reaffirmed by the recent public disclosure of EEO-1 reports by various tech giants. 

Every minority group is underrepresented in the information sector except for Asians and whites, who together dominate this industry. We know from the data that there is not a pipeline problem, but rather a lack of policies that incent hiring managers to employ people who don’t look like them. If you want to catch a shark, you don’t cast your net in a pond. This analogy holds for identifying and recruiting qualified women and minority candidates who have degrees/specialized IT skills. Though well-intentioned, the existing hiring processes at many tech companies are not structured to ensure diversity and inclusion. If the right pool of diverse candidates is not granted consideration or allowed to compete for the job, they certainly will never get hired.

The 2013 unemployment rate for recent black college graduates is almost twice that of recent college grads overall — 12.4 percent as compared to 5.6 percent. This includes STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) majors. African-American college graduates in STEM majors have fared somewhat better, but still suffer from high unemployment and underemployment rates. They have at least a 50 percent chance of being employed in a field that is not related to their major. 

How would an IT company benefit from more women and minorities?

We believe that any company can benefit from diversity because it offers a competitive edge. New research also suggests that companies with a diverse set of employees perform better (i.e. increased revenue, happier employees, less churn, etc.). Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found that diverse groups outperformed more homogeneous groups not solely because of an influx of new ideas, but because diversity triggered more careful information processing that is absent in homogeneous groups. Beyond the typical case for why inclusion is “the right thing to do,” consider the fact that a diverse set of employees actually mitigates risk within an organization. From this perspective, diversity becomes part of a smart business strategy.  

How has your own background helped you get into studying diversity and impacted your work?

Diversity marketing requires a mix of left- and right-brain thinking that I love. I was made for this.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve had the good fortune of launching some the world’s most celebrated brands, traveling the globe on their behalf and generating millions in revenues throughout the process. As a former agency executive at GlobalHue, the leading multicultural advertising agency in the U.S., I’ve also led the charge of engaging consumers using traditional mediums (TV, print, radio) as well as interactive and social media. Collectively, these experiences have taught me to embrace change and remember the importance of communicating with diverse segments on their terms. This is critical when you are seeking to engage diversity candidates like Professional Diversity Network’s audiences. As an African-American, my approach is also tempered by a personal filter, which allows me to connect with our targets on a deeper level. Did I say I was made for this?

How does the Professional Diversity Network help organizations and companies increase their diversity?

Professional Diversity Network helps companies and organizations leverage technology to identify and recruit the most diverse and qualified pool of candidates, many of whom are passive job seekers. While technology provides the foundation for what we do, it’s just one part. Through our targeted networking events, job fairs and executive roundtables, we create an ecosystem that ultimately helps clients reach their diversity goals faster. We also power the job sites for organizations like the National Urban League, Women in Bio, Wall Street Warfighters, the National Black MBA Association and National Hispanic Sales Network, among others.

The process of searching for a job has evolved. Not too long ago, a job seeker’s best line of defense was classified ads — then there were online job boards. Today, the only real way to find a job is through networking and increasing your visibility among decision-makers. As such, we also empower over 3 million registered members by offering face-to-face networking opportunities with hiring managers and access to free online resources such as Resunate (our resume optimization tool).

The Diversity Jobs Index indicated that an increase in April to May in overall demand for diverse talent positively impacted three of the largest segments: African-Americans, women and Hispanics. What kind of trends in diversity hiring are you predicting for the rest of 2014 and 2015?

The index is derived from real-time data, so it reflects a true picture of the monthly demand for diverse candidates. And while we can’t predict from month to month, we do believe diversity is always “on trend.” According to the Center for American Progress, the U.S. and its workforce are both becoming more diverse. The share of people of color has increased significantly; more women are entering the labor force; and gay and transgender individuals are making vital contributions to our economy, while being increasingly open about who they are. To that end, businesses that embrace diversity have a more solid footing in the marketplace than others. We couldn’t agree more.