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March 4, 2020

How Are Some Tech Businesses Successfully Creating Diverse, Inclusive Workplace Environments?

You may see a lot of headlines and hear a lot of stories about tech companies struggling with diversity and inclusion in their workplaces.


But what about the ones that are making great strides?


In this excerpt from our award-winning Technologist Talk podcast, Ulysses Smith, a leader in organizational diversity and inclusion, tells us how some tech businesses are making progress creating diverse, inclusive workplace environments. Smith, an advisor to CompTIA’s Advancing Tech Talent and Diversity Community, shares the benefits organizations are earning from successfully pursuing diversity and inclusion.


Here's an edited transcript of the final episode in a 3-part series featuring Smith:


R.C. “Bob” Dirkes: Hello, I'm your host Bob Dirkes... This is the third of three podcasts focusing on diversity and inclusion in technology careers. In our last episode, we explored how some firms are incorporating diversity and inclusion into the very fabric of their corporate culture.


[In this final installment] we'll wrap up our conversation with Ulysses Smith, a leader in organizational diversity and inclusion. He'll share with us the benefits organizations are earning from successfully pursuing diversity and inclusion. Those benefits go farther than many firms may imagine.


Ulysses Smith: …So, lots of people like to talk about the business case for diversity and how having diversity increases your bottom line. And while that's definitely true, I think we should move a bit beyond this juncture. We know that diversity is good for the bottom line. We know it leads to more innovation, but that's really not the whole point of this conversation.


The point is, at this juncture, you can't avoid dealing with people who are different from you and we've got to figure out the best ways and best strategies to make sure that everybody in the workforce is prepared to engage with others across the globe. And more than likely, most of us now are going to start working on global teams.


Bob: Diversity and inclusion have other internal benefits as well, especially when a firm takes it to a level of belonging.


Smith: We've seen now the big performance indicators of belonging with the same kind of business case around diversity that a lot of people are citing now.


And wow, shockingly, people choose to stay at a company where they feel that they belong a lot longer than, say somewhere where they feel like they are not welcomed or valued for who they are. People tend to take sick days less or fewer sick days when they feel like they're somewhere they belong because we see stresses reduce dramatically.


Bob: But how does a prospective employee get a sense of a firm's culture before committing to work there?


Tech firms are certainly seeking to hire diversity and fostering inclusivity, but that doesn't mean they all succeed. Smith says, "You just can't tell from a company's website, even a website devoted to their diversity efforts."


Smith: Everybody likes to put up a new diversity website. And that's usually the first thing the people do. They say, "We got to put up a website and we have to use some stock pictures and showcase how diverse our workforce is," but that's not really an indicator of the actual company culture.


Bob: That doesn't mean you can't learn about a firm's culture online. You just have to go to sites that are independent of the company.


Smith: You have the [option] of Glassdoor. You have the [option] of so many other platforms where people are now being encouraged to tell their stories about their experiences at that company.


So, somebody on the outside is able to look and say, "Hmm," not just depending on this company's website, but really reading the narratives of other people. "I'm learning that this might not be the place for me. I'm getting a much better insight into the company's culture."


Bob: Smith says prospective employees also must be prepared to ask questions that are a lot tougher than those that might have been asked in the past. It's no longer a world where any kind of job offer is good enough.


Smith: Particularly for millennials and beyond, the job interview experience is very different. You are really and seriously interviewing the company much more so than they are interviewing you.


You're really [asking] the companies to take the time to walk you around their facilities, to tell you all the perks that they have, to walk through a lot of these big indicator policies, the big policies that they have around wellness or work-life integration.


…Are you encouraged to show up all day, every day, and work until your thumbs bleed? Or do people actually encourage having fun and interacting? What are the learning and development benefits around us? Are we encouraging you to develop yourself continuously at all times?


There are so many other questions that people are now asking before choosing to work at an organization.


Bob: He says it's more than just the answers to those questions. More than the words.


Communication can be just as powerful when you consider how those words are spoken or when it comes in a form that's not spoken at all.


Smith: You really want to know: How does the company do business? How do you interact with your customer base, with your client base? How do you interact with your employees?


I'm not going to know that from your website.


"Hey, I really need to not only just ask questions, but I just want to see how you interact. I do want to hear your answers to me when I do ask questions, but, more importantly, I want to see how you conduct yourself."


And that's something that is continuing, I think, to be extremely important across all industries. People, in general, want to see now, "How am I going to fit into this place? Do I see myself here based on what these people are saying and doing, based on how they conduct themselves?"


Bob: That's why firms that establish belonging as a priority will win when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Smith says it's not really about numbers first and foremost, it's creating the right feel.


Smith: The reality is, I've been in places where I was the only black person in the company. I've been in places where I might be the only black person on the floor. But what was more important to me was how I felt about that.


Was I at a company that made me feel like the other and the outsider? Or was I at a company where people engage with me, all parts of me for who I was? And was I respected? And was I valued? And was I treated well?


That's a different set of questions that we're asking now. I can't see belonging: I feel it, right? You don't hear belonging, you feel it.


Bob: Smith says tech firms earn their reputations one person at a time, one day at a time, by engendering feelings of respect, purpose and trust – all feelings true technologists expect and appreciate from their employers.


Technologist Talk is an award-winning podcast produced by Creating IT Futures, CompTIA’s tech workforce charity, where we talk to business leaders, workforce professionals and talent developers about shaping the careers of today’s and tomorrow’s technology workers.


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