The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How can you play a role in advancing workplace equality?” is written by Amit Srivastav, president of Infinite Computer Solutions.
The challenge of diversity and an equal workforce in the tech industry has been well established, and there has rightfully been a push for change over the last few years to include more women, veterans, and other underrepresented groups.
As a technology executive from company with a contingent of Indian-American leaders and engineers, ensuring that my company has a truly diverse and equal workforce takes strategy and careful consideration. Diversity does not only mean employees from different backgrounds and experiences; it also means diversity of thought. This allows fresh ideas and new channels to connect to customers, and provides an added edge in a competitive market.
Thus you have to be able to move outside a comfort zone of hiring people who think like you. Here are some questions to consider in this process:
Understand and close the diversity gap
The first step is acknowledging the potential gaps within your business. Are there missing demographics in your workforce? If 80% of your technical workforce is male, your business is losing out on talented individuals who would thrive.
It’s important to work with human resources to keep hiring those with bright new ideas. The challenge is not whether a candidate has the right coding skills; that is inarguable. The challenge can come when deciding between qualified candidates, where implicit bias can play a part. It’s tempting to hire those that seem similar to the rest of the workforce.
Try to reach out to a wide range of universities for talent—not just focusing on top-tier technical schools like Stanford and MIT—to attract a greater diversity of applicants. This also means reaching out to other channels, such as Girls Who Code, veteran groups, and other specific organizations that might have the candidates you’re looking for.
Don’t only rely on referrals
One of the most common—and most helpful—ways that tech companies hire is through referrals. This is for good reason. Referrals through successful employees already have an added layer of vetting built in.
However, a caveat to this is that employees tend to bring in employees similar to themselves. I’ve tried to make sure that referrals go through a rigorous interview process to make sure that they have the skills and qualifications for the job. I would even go so far as to say that referrals should not get preferential treatment during the hiring journey. Recommendations get them in the door, but they must advance through the value they add to the company.
Show your commitment to the world
Another way to further push commitment to diversity is to make it a core part of the business’s public values. It is one thing to have to human resources change its internal processes; it’s another to hold my goals accountable to outside stakeholders. There’s been strong precedent among technology companies in doing this; Salesforce welcomed the industry’s first chief equality officer, and many companies, like Dropbox, publish diversity reports every year.
To get started, it might just be a matter of changing how executives talk about the business. When we hire at Infinite, for example, we emphasize our embrace of an open office and the sharing of new ideas, and we’ve been committed to this long enough that we can cite examples of diverse employees taking up their own projects at the office. This we share with the public, which enforces that message.
It starts with small gestures like these. It’s important to get the message out there that diversity is not an end itself, but a means to enhance the culture of an organization.