The Second Best Time to Build a Diverse Workforce is Today
Bio: Robbyn is a women’s labor force expert, consultant, and coach. She is Co-Founder and Director of Outreach at Tech-Moms, an organization that helps women transition into tech careers.
This article was published in the Summer 2021 issue
By Robbyn Scribner
I’ve spent my career advocating for women at work, but despite some progress, I sometimes feel like Sisyphus, doomed to keep pushing my rock uphill. The challenges of the past year have exposed shortcomings, blind spots, and even blatant discrimination within organizations. The good news is that companies are being forced to address their lack of diversity. The bad news is that many of them have no idea how to do it.
In my work with Tech-Moms, I’ve spoken with scores of recruiters who are eager to increase the gender diversity in their teams. Our program trains women in beginning tech skills--they move into entry-level jobs and with additional training and experience go on to higher level roles. Sometimes when I tell hiring managers about our graduates they say, “Well, what I’m really looking for is a senior software developer, and I’d love for it to be a woman!” What I want to reply (but I don’t because I’m pretty non-confrontational and I also know these are good folks trying to do a good thing) is, “The best way to find a female senior software developer for your team is to have hired her as a junior software developer 5 years ago.” Even though I don’t say this, it’s the truth.
The interest in diversifying teams is not new. The business case for diversity was established long ago, and many companies also have a sincere desire to increase diversity because it’s simply the right thing to do! But implementing this kind of organizational change isn’t easy, and too many businesses have left this on the backburner until now. But 2020 has taught all of us that diversifying our teams is no longer just the smart thing to do, or the right thing to do--it is the ONLY thing to do for companies that want to survive the new world of work. So everyone is scrambling. Large companies are hiring Chief Diversity Officers to get this done, and small companies are reaching out to people like me to help them hire more women.
I applaud this move and want to encourage more of it. But hiring managers need to know that EVERYONE is now looking for diverse talent. And senior-level, experienced candidates from diverse backgrounds are in very high demand. Companies that are truly converted to transforming the composition of their workforce understand that there is no quick fix for this challenge. This is a long game. The reason why so many of our businesses have homogenous teams is because for decades many industries haven’t been accessible or welcoming to women or people of color. Most of us are ready (eager!) to build a new reality, but change doesn’t happen overnight.
Companies need to make a long-term investment in diversity. That means hiring people where they are right now (which in many industries, is at the entry-level). Traditional hiring practices have excluded many; instead, try the following:
- Drop requirements for a 4-year degree where not absolutely necessary.
- Create internships that are available to a broader field of candidates (not just college students from select universities). “Returnships” designed for women re-entering the workforce are particularly valuable.
- Offer apprenticeships to provide opportunities for people to “earn while they learn.” The federal government helps to cover salaries and administrative costs for apprenticeships--this should be a no-brainer!
- Create entry-level roles and offer high-quality, on-the-job training with the intention to promote from within. This is the best way to ensure the higher-level people you need will have the perfect skills for your company.
- Partner with organizations dedicated to increasing opportunities for groups that have traditionally been marginalized. We are here to make this investment easier for you.
We all know the old saying “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is today.” We can’t suddenly decide we need a mature tree and wish it into existence. This principle holds true for building our teams. By investing in entry-level workers from a wide variety of backgrounds, and then providing training, mentorship, and pathways to success, over time we will have the diverse workforce we want and need. Don’t wait another day to get started.
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*Read the latest issue of Silicon Slopes Magazine, Summer 2021