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“Back to Normal” Series, Part 1: Want to Build a More Diverse Workforce? Start By Hiring Talent Where They Are

The Covid-19 pandemic forever changed how we work, live, and relate to one another. As the world begins to reopen and readjust to the “new normal,” our “Back to Normal” blog series will explore what that means for employers and their workforce, from returning to the office; to adjusting to new ways of working; to hiring, recruiting and retaining diverse talent. We hope this series serves as a lodestar for you as we all navigate this brave new world together.   

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, companies across the country closed offices and instructed employees to work from home until it was safe to return. It was a large-scale effort that many thought would only last a few months. More than a year later, however, millions of employees continue to work from home indefinitely. 

Even as more people get vaccinated and the world returns to some semblance of “normal,” it’s become increasingly clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has irrevocably changed the way we work—and where. Some employers plan to allow their workforce to remain 100% remote. Others, like Apple and Google, have adopted a hybrid approach, where employees will come into the office two or three days a week and work from home the rest of the time. Still, others will want everyone to come back to the office full time. 

Employee sentiment is mixed, too. More than half of employees prefer to continue working from home due to the flexibility and time savings it provides. Not having to commute and being able to balance work and home life has delivered a noteworthy boost in productivity, which was up 47% in 2020. Some workers, however, are eager to return to the office and the opportunity to collaborate in person. Creative teams, for example, tend to work better and come up with more innovative ideas when everyone is in a room together, brainstorming with whiteboards and dry erase markers. That kind of collaboration and creative energy doesn’t quite translate to a Zoom meeting.     

Narrowing the diversity gaps

To be sure, the next several months will present some interesting operational challenges for employers as they determine how to best move forward from what has been a tumultuous time in their business, and in the world. For employers who are open to hiring remotely, however, there is a silver lining: This brave new world means they’re no longer confined by geographic constraints when it comes to recruiting new talent. Being able to source candidates from anywhere presents a rare and unique window of opportunity for employers, particularly in tech, to cast off old paradigms and evolve to begin to close the diversity gaps in their workforce.

Specifically, it offers a chance for employers to expand their talent pipelines beyond the traditional geographic clusters where tech talent has historically been concentrated—more than 90% of tech innovation and growth occurred in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and San Jose between 2005 and 2017. Meeting high-quality candidates where they are—no matter where they are—provides employers the ability to gain access to more diverse populations and focus recruiting efforts on underrepresented groups throughout the country, and potentially, the world.

In light of this opportunity to pivot hiring strategies, the WTIA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Office is focused on assisting employers in three main areas:

Recruiting

While the ability to recruit talent from uncharted locations is exciting, for many employers, especially smaller ones, it’s also somewhat intimidating. Large companies like Microsoft and Amazon are experienced at recruiting talent from all over the country; they recruit tens of thousands of new employees every year. 

Smaller companies, typically with 1,000 employees or less, may struggle to recruit employees remotely, simply because they don’t yet have the vast networks and connections to source really great talent. These employers need help writing job descriptions that appeal to diverse candidates and adjusting their recruiting processes to plug into the right networks. The WTIA DEI Office can provide support for smaller tech employers in these areas so they can expand their hiring practices and achieve their diversity goals.

Retention

Once tech companies have successfully recruited candidates from diverse backgrounds, getting them to stay is another matter. People of color and women are twice as likely to leave tech industry jobs as white men due to workplace culture issues such as sexual harassment, racial microaggressions, discrimination, and stereotyping. The cost of this turnover to tech industry employers is an estimated $16 billion a year.  

Often, these workers end up feeling marginalized and isolated, like they don’t really fit or belong in the culture. And when they leave tech employers, many leave the industry and don’t come back, further contributing to the persistent talent shortage. Thus, it’s up to all employers, not just in tech, to put structures and training in place to combat the high rates of turnover and foster cultures of inclusion and belonging throughout their organizations.

Organizational Development

Many companies have a sense of tribalism within their cultures. “This isn’t surprising, given that humans tend to be tribal animals,” says Michael Schutzler, CEO, WTIA. “What’s problematic is when the tribes within an organization are at war with or aren’t productive with each other.” 

In that sense, it’s important that employers clearly define their company culture and how it manifests in their hiring and retention practices. A significant part of that is gaining an intimate understanding of how diversity contributes to the strength of the fabric that holds employees, and the culture, together. “Celebrating those differences is what makes that fabric stronger,” Michael notes. “The more diversity you have in a company, the stronger those threads are. But it requires deliberate, intentional work, including putting in place strong structures, processes, and communications. And it has to start from the top down.”

WTIA members can look to the DEI Office to deliver training, coaching, process engineering support, advisory services, and best practices to help cultivate more equitable and inclusive workplaces. We are committed to helping employers expand their recruiting efforts to tap new talent pools while addressing systemic inequities and improving retention. Email DEI@washingtontechnology.org to learn more about our offerings.

Authors

  • Yolanda Chase is the Chief Diversity Officer at WTIA. Learn more about her here.

  • Michael Schutzler is an entrepreneur, engineer, science geek, and first generation immigrant. He is the CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA). Before joining the WTIA, Michael led the merger of Livemocha – a community of 17 million language learners – with the popular education software company Rosetta Stone. He also built Classmates.com into the first profitable social media application, transformed online marketing at Monster.com, and grew the online gaming business at RealNetworks to become a global leader. He teaches part time at the University Of Washington Foster School of Business, serves on several boards, and is an investor in Flowplay, YouSolar, Koru, Moment, 9 Mile Labs, Alliance of Angels, Keiretsu Forum, and Social Venture Partners. As a successful Internet entrepreneur, lead angel investor, and veteran executive coach, Michael has personally invested in twenty-four companies, served as coach and advisor to more than 100 executives, and has raised over $50M in private financing.

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