Award-winning CIO and executive coach Joe Topinka wants to make sure he and other tech executives are doing all they possibly can to promote diversity in IT.

Throughout my career, technology has been a male dominated industry, and we all know that is still true today. In fact, the latest U.S. census reveals that just 7.3 percent of computer operations jobs are held by Blacks, 6 percent by Hispanics, and 25 percent by women, of which only 10 percent are women of color. 

This lack of diversity has been a frequent topic of conversation on the executive leadership teams I have been part of over the years, and more broadly across our industry. It has taken on more importance due to the current shortage in the talent supply, baby boomers exiting the workforce, and the Great Resignation, fueled by the global pandemic that has people in IT and other fields job hopping in record numbers.

Never has there been a better time to embrace diversity in the IT workforce. Progressive organizations are focusing on building credible diversity and inclusion programs because there are real benefits in doing so. Diverse companies are more innovative, customers respond favorably to it, and the CIOs I have spoken to say that employee engagement increases.

Seeking DE&I Perspective

Recently, I started asking myself what I could do to be a catalyst for change in this area. To get at some answers, I have sought out women and minority leaders in our industry and asked them to share their points of view. They have shared with me their perspectives on what it is like to be female and a person of color in the technology industry. We talk about male privilege, male patriarchy, and diversity and inclusion.

They have generously described what it feels like to sit in a room and be the only female or person of color present. Most of the CIOs and executives I’ve known over the years are white men who have never had to face this situation.

 

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As I listen to their stories, I hear frustration, examples of double standards, of unfairly being held to higher standards, and being treated differently – not in a good way. For me, this has triggered some serious soul searching.

But I also wanted to know what I could do to make sure I wasn’t contributing to the problem in some way. I asked these great leaders what they thought, and here is what I learned:

  1. Struggles and Obstacles – Having a privileged life as a white male doesn’t mean everything has always come easily to me. Like most people, I’ve struggled at times, been treated unfairly, and had to work hard to get ahead in life. But the important difference for me is that neither my race or my gender were ever part of those  struggles. I see now that many of the issues I had to deal with are the same ones that females and persons of color have had to deal with. But their success journeys had more obstacles along the way – obstacles I never had to face as a white male – and I have come to respect that more than ever.

  2. Be Curious – Ask women and people of color about their experiences. Ask for their insights into when they feel included and valued, and when they don’t. Seeking their perspectives has helped me gain valuable insights into the challenges they have faced during their careers: challenges that I had not yet heard about first hand, or ever had to deal with personally. Sexism and racism are real issues and talking about it helps ensure that we are tuned into their issues in a sensitive and caring way.

  3. Get Comfortable With the Uncomfortable – When you ask women and/or a person of color for their insights, they will undoubtedly tell stories that are hard to hear. I learned that hearing and understanding their stories is an important part of the learning process. It is part of making progress.

  4. Start in Your Own Backyard – Work to close the gender/diversity pay gap by partnering with colleagues in HR to review your team's compensation data, identify potential discrepancies and inequities, and develop a proactive plan to address them. Collaborating with HR makes the process work more effectively, raises the visibility of these efforts and sets an example for other leaders in the organization to follow.

  5. Show Support – Be an advocate for women and people of color. Do it every day, in public, and behind closed doors. Be a teacher and share what you are learning and help others to see and recognize the problems inherent in our industry. Commit to being part of a new kind of leader, one that openly supports diversity and inclusion at work, at home, and in your community.

  6. Be Authentic – Make sure your actions come from the heart and that they are real and sincere. This isn’t a time and place where a mere coat of paint on the problem makes sense.

Make it a priority to understand what can be done to change the makeup of our industry (or at least the teams that you lead). Take time to self-reflect, make sure you are not part of the problem – recognize that this is fundamental to becoming a great leader. Make 2022 the most inclusive year in our industry. I’d love to hear your experiences and perspective (use the Comments section below) so please, don’t be shy!

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