Inspiring Success

A blog from Creating IT Futures

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October 16, 2017

Panel Turns Diversity into Dividends

By Michelle Lange

ITF_2Tech companies focus on diversity and inclusivity because it’s profitable, not just because it’s “the right thing to do,” said Cathy Alper, who leads CompTIA’s Advancing Women in Technology community.


“Numerous studies have been very consistent over the last 10 years. Having more women increased productivity, profitability, innovation and problem solving, and led to better recruiting and better retention,” said Alper, introducing a discussion panel on women and diversity in the tech workforce. “And everything we’re saying about women works with every type of diversity.”


The panel of women, curated by Creating IT Futures in Minnesota and hosted by Atomic Data and HealthPartners, outlined ways companies in the Twin Cities embrace diversity and inclusivity to make better products, retain employees and overcome cultural stereotypes.


Better Solutions for Customers

“When you create a diverse and inclusive work environment, you’re going to end up with a much better solution,” said Keri Steele, senior director, Target Technology Services, highlighting some of the ways diversity and inclusion pay off for her company. “You’re going to produce better products and you’re also going to retain key employees.”


Through agile scrum teams, Target Techology Services lets people pick their own assignments and partner with team members they can learn from. “It’s a great way for two people to work together to achieve the same result,” said Steele. One learns from the other, and the company gets a better product. “Our growing consumer base requires people with all sorts of backgrounds doing the programming.”


That’s also true at HealthPartners, which serves diverse communities and often people in vulnerable health-related situations. “Opening up spaces to embrace diversity has not only helped us identify solutions for serving our patients and our members, it also helped us identify challenges for them,” said Shamayne Braman, director, diversity and inclusion, HealthPartners.


That insight helps develop products and processes to serve their customers in better ways, an idea shared by Shawna Maryanovich, senior vice president, technology product and release management, Wells Fargo. Companies need to see people’s potential and build on their technical skills rather than make assumptions about their abilities.



“We look at the world through our personal lens, but we’re not given many lenses overall to change the way we see ourselves and see others,” Maryanovich said. When empathy and understanding are introduced, that lens widens and benefits employees and customers. “When we’re engaged, and feel as though we can bring our full selves into our jobs, the end customer can feel that difference.”


Employees Who Stick Around

Many panel members expressed the frustration of bringing in diverse team members only to have them leave too soon, and Katie Pevan, director, Findlaw technology services and support, Thomson Reuters, can empathize. She initially left Thomson Reuters because she wanted to do something different, but felt she couldn’t make a significant career move within the company. Since returning, she’s seen a big shift in employee growth initiatives and retention through mentoring circles, leadhership training and groups that advance women in technology.


“Getting the support from above, getting the confidence to say, ‘Hey, I can do this job’ or hearing ‘My boss’s boss said you should apply for this job,’ I think that’s key,” said Pevan. 


Panel members recommended giving people the flexibility to explore different parts of the company while matching new hires with mentors and sponsors who can help develop skills and interests. Some let new hires sit in on executive meetings to get a sense of the company as a whole, and others are playing with “stay interviews” instead of exit interviews, trying anything they can to get a handle on what people need to thrive in their jobs and stick around.


If a company doesn’t offer the feeling of engagement and inclusion, the people they worked so hard to hire aren’t likely to stay. “Most people don’t know how to have a conversation that feels appropriate related to bias or inclusion,” said Steele. “It’s our job to keep people there and engaged.”


Opportunities for Underrepresented Groups

Women and other underrepresented groups need similar things to be successful in IT, namely access and exposure. Part of that includes overcoming the unconscious bias that keeps us thinking in stereotypes like men are programmers and women work in marketing.


“Our brains are wired this way, and over times we do associate people with certain jobs, but this is the important part: We can use strategies to stretch our schema and overcome unconscious bias,” Alper said.


Counter your company’s accidental bias by having a diverse group of people conducting hiring interviews, posting ads that speak to all people and making sure your daily activities don’t allow unconscious bias to affect assignments, decision making and hiring, said members of the panel. 


“As a healthcare organization, it’s very important that we have diversity in our hiring and our recruitment practices,” said Braman. “You need someone to say, ‘I see you have a skill set that’s transferable, that can be grown and be really successful in this space.’ … Being able to see yourself in that space is really important.”


Michelle Lange is a writer and designer living in Chicago.