When it comes to fostering diversity in the tech sector, many initiatives focus on getting more women and people of color into the “pipeline.” Organizations like Black Girls Code, Women Who Code and Code 2040 are doing an amazing job encouraging more underrepresented groups to study STEM and choose tech careers, and forward-thinking companies have developed innovative hiring practices to bring more diverse talent on board. While this is, of course, critically important work, it doesn’t end there. We must continue to elevate diverse groups once they get into the field.
Within technology fields, women are underrepresented at all levels. Among the already low percentage of women employed in computer and information science occupations, only 12% are black or Latin American women, according to a recent study from the Kapor Center, Arizona State University and Pivotal Ventures. As a white woman, I understand my own privilege and fully recognize that there are real and different challenges for those who identify with more than one marginalized group. My diversity journey may have started with a focus on women in tech, but it has expanded dramatically to include the intersectional experiences of many diverse backgrounds.
The tech industry is used for solving problems. It’s what we do best. But there are no silver bullets to fix the lack of diversity in tech overnight. Instead, there are many nuanced changes that we all must make to encourage more underrepresented groups to love creating technology and show the industry how to create an environment where they can excel. Once we diversify the pipeline, I think the most important things that technology leaders can do to keep technologists engaged in their careers is to give them equal opportunity to showcase their skills, voice their opinions and get a fair shot at promotions. Intersectional technologists need to be given meaningful work with high visibility -- not only "support" roles.
In my dual role as senior vice president of shared technology and executive lead for diversity in tech at Capital One, it’s my job to ensure we attract more diverse perspectives to our company and provide meaningful opportunities that encourage them to stay. Here are three strategies leaders can deploy to support diverse technologists:
1) Provide Equal Opportunity for Advancement
Ensuring everyone has equal opportunities for promotion seems obvious, but it’s not the norm in tech since so few women and minorities reach leadership roles. To promote more individuals from underrepresented backgrounds, first you must give them challenging roles that enable them to showcase their skills. When women, people of color and LGBTQ people are presented with meaningful and visible work, it’s more likely that we will see them feel valued, engaged and promoted through the ranks.
More often, underrepresented groups can feel a greater need to be prepared for a promotion than their majority peers and may even resist putting their name forward for elevated roles. As a leader, it’s important to identify and encourage those with potential confidence gaps to apply for and accept roles that will help them advance and solve important business challenges.
2) Value All Skills
Perhaps your company values technical skills and developers are respected greatly. Or perhaps your organization values sales and deal-closers get the most recognition. Every company has a unique culture and that’s great. But what if a short-term focus on celebrating a certain type of employee means you aren’t valuing, supporting and encouraging others who equally contribute to your company’s long-term success?
More diverse teams excel every day because they look at problems through a solution-oriented, creative and innovative lens. They have also been shown to be more open and make fewer mistakes. Finding value in diverse roles and perspectives in a technology company is critical for your end goals.
And for intersectional voices in tech roles, it’s especially important to value their problem-solving methods, even when they express them differently from their counterparts. Sometimes, a female engineer may tackle a challenge from a different angle, but that doesn’t mean she doesn't have the right skills to do so. Not everyone gets from point A to point B in the same manner, so managers should watch how they are measuring skills and what skills they value to see how each employee’s unique skill set benefits the whole.
3) Boost Visibility For All
Remember to provide ample opportunities for underrepresented employees to be “visible.” Find ways to showcase their knowledge and expertise, recognize their accomplishments, and ensure their voices are heard.
A simple way to foster visibility is to have women and other minority employees speak in front of groups. As one example, while men are given ample opportunities to present in meetings, women are often relegated to providing feedback or taking notes. Make sure underrepresented minorities in your organization get regular opportunities to "take the stage” -- not just in management meetings, but at outside events such as demo days and conferences. Help managers understand the importance of providing equal “visibility” opportunities to all employees, including public speaking and high-value projects.
Visibility Is Everyone’s Responsibility
One final note: Fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace where everyone feels like they belong goes a long way toward encouraging more underrepresented groups to stay in the tech industry. And many companies are already forming internal groups where employees of diverse backgrounds can connect and find mentors. At Capital One, our Women in Tech program was formed in 2014 to connect women of all backgrounds in local chapters across the country and internationally. This initiative started as a working group and has grown into a company-wide movement of women technologists and allies.
Intel has programs such as its Intel Network of Executive Women (INEW) to connect female employees and advance women's initiatives. And Salesforce has built its culture around the Hawaiian concept of "Ohana" (or family) with employee-led groups aiming to bring together individuals and allies with a common background or experience.
Creating an environment where everyone feels welcome and providing tangible opportunities for underrepresented technologists to advance will help your organization build -- and retain -- a more diverse workforce.
This article originally ran on Forbes.