Diversity in the tech world is never too far from the headlines. It’s common knowledge and widely lamented how the field is widely skewed towards white or Asian males who are under age 30. It is interesting to note as the oldest portion of the Millennial cohort ranges from age 30-35, I have seen several stories pointing out that the tech industry not only has a diversity problem when it comes to gender and race, but also an ageism problem that starts much earlier than other sectors. People at the oldest end of the Millennials cohort are now starting to find that, at least in Silicon Valley, they are considered too old to be employable; a challenge not normally faced until you reach your fifties/sixties in other industries.
There has been a river of (digital) ink spilled about how to address these diversity issues, especially when it comes to gender. Most often the advice revolves around addressing the start up culture that demands results so quickly that employees are not left with any time for anything else in their lives, fixing the culture within tech which makes women feel unwelcome, and addressing lack of diversity in the pipeline of tech employees by encouraging girls to study STEM subjects (which seems to only mean teaching them to code, but that’s a subject for another post) These are all important factors into the diversity problem, and some of them can be addressed through current workplace changes like flexible scheduling and working from home.
But the thing that strikes me, especially about the pipeline argument, is that while improving the diversity of the pipeline is important and should be pursued, it does nothing to fix the problem now. You would need to wait for years for the students in the pipeline to go through school, graduate and begin looking for work before you would see parity improving. Is there anything that can be done to fix the problem in the interim? Addressing cultural factors will help retain women, but it won’t get you anywhere near parity.
I believe one avenue worth considering is recruiting and training talent which may currently exist outside of the industry. With some skills specific training, there are lots of women currently working in other industries who might be fantastic in the technology sector, rather than waiting for the next generation. This has two main benefits:
- It addresses the diversity issue in the short term. As we all know, the longer cultural issues are allowed to fester, the more solidified the culture becomes, and thus the more difficult to change. When it becomes too institutionalized, one of the only ways to change it is to endure a crisis, which makes habits more malleable.
- It helps companies close another long-lamented pipline issue…the “skills gap”. A recent webinar from The Human Capital Institute with Randi Zuckerberg posed the opinion from a TechCrunch piece that the infamous skills gap cited by the tech industry doesn’t really exist and that it’s an issue of employers not being willing to train potential (and current) employees. Zuckerberg said she thought this was “…spot on” and went on to argue that any employer has employees with a great variety of skills and potential, and with just a bit of training you can help employees get the skills you need for much cheaper than trying to hire a unicorn employee. I fully agree with this line of thought.
If more employers recognized the two-for-one deal they could get by being willing to over more training and look beyond their fairy tale job descriptions, diversity within the tech sector would increase much faster, and that would be better for everyone.