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How to Ensure DE&I Progress In Tech Doesn’t Slip During Turbulent Times

The majority of business leaders see Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) as a priority, but many are struggling to translate their goals into meaningful action. Case in point: only 23% of people surveyed in our Talent Index (Sixth Edition) agreed that their business “promotes acceptance of diverse cultures and beliefs among employees.” The percentage amongst those working in IT/Tech was even lower, at 21%. A mere 18% from that sector said that their business “prioritizes DE&I through the introduction of leadership-level initiatives.”

In the technology industry, the gap between DE&I intention and action is pronounced. While many tech companies have accelerated their efforts and some are showing meaningful progress, the sector still has a long way to go. In fact, we might even argue it risks falling behind.

When we consider the current climate of uncertainty and industry-wide layoffs in the tech space, there is evidence that DE&I progress is stalling or even backsliding. As a recent Computerworld piece explains, “Job losses are always going to feel unfair to those affected, but in an industry that continues to be largely dominated by men, employees from underrepresented backgrounds are likely to bear the brunt of any layoffs, as the roles they inhabit are often viewed as the most expendable.”

A New Approach to DE&I in Tech

While there are likely a number of factors holding back technology companies’ efforts to increase DE&I, the lack of a holistic or ‘joined-up’ approach ranks among the most common challenges. Perhaps they’re focusing on diversity or inclusion in isolation. Or they’re emphasizing DE&I at the hiring stage without addressing it at other stages of the talent lifecycle or at the senior leadership level.

One thing is clear: to better attract, retain, and engage diverse talent, and to truly create a representative business, leaders need a new approach. A comprehensive DE&I strategy requires more equitable, personalized experiences across the entire talent lifecycle. A critical first step is for organizations to look at talent through the lens of skills.

Skills & Fairness

In a recent study by Accenture and Harvard Business School, 80% of business leaders said their Applicant Tracking System (ATS) was filtering out half of highly skilled, qualified candidates simply because of system parameters such as gaps in work history or missing credentials. Good candidates were being overlooked because the process emphasizes criteria like experience, education and location over competency. This causes companies to pass over candidates from under-represented populations, groups that tend to be uncredentialed, or anyone who has taken a break from the workforce due to personal circumstances. Needless to say, this won’t encourage true diversity within a team or company.

But there is a trend – in the tech sector and elsewhere – towards evaluating people based on what truly matters: the skills they bring to the task(s) at hand and their potential to develop new skills.

According to the Financial Times, “We may be moving towards a more fluid market where workers leverage their specific skill sets, rather than focusing on a linear path of increasingly senior job titles. This shift would require employers to adjust their recruitment and career progression mindsets and become much more open to assessing transferable skills so that workers can change direction and try new things.”

Organizations are starting to see that taking a skills-first approach introduces a more objective assessment of talent, and removes the biases that inevitably exist inside a company. It is the basis for more equitable processes, from hiring to development to promotion. In other words, it lays the foundation for the fairness, access, and opportunity that are inherent in the “E” of DE&I.

In fact, a study by Deloitte finds overwhelming support for the ‘fairness’ of a skills-based approach: 80% of business executives say making decisions about hiring, pay, promotions, succession, and deployment based on people’s skills (rather than their job history, tenure in the job, or network) would reduce bias and improve fairness.

What has changed? Businesses increasingly understand that by focusing only on qualifications and experience, they may be missing out on high-quality candidates – including existing employees – who already have most of the necessary skills to do the job. But, more crucially, technology has emerged that allows employers to map skills (between people and roles) with a granularity, consistency and accuracy that’s simply not been possible before.

The Role of Data and Technology

Looking beyond the traditional measures of success – education, experience, previous roles, and titles – to understand each individual as a dynamic set of skills and capabilities will help you remove bias in each part of the talent lifecycle. But how is that achieved, at scale?

The first stage is, of course, data. Skills data is famously hard to manage: an individual’s skills will continually evolve; different systems don’t always use the same terminology around skills; and your various HR tools don’t always speak the same language, making it difficult for you to connect the dots.

You will need to establish a holistic view of all skills across disparate systems in order to connect skills to each other and all your talent data. By using up-to-date data and accurate skills insights when evaluating internal and external talent, you can begin to make better hiring and talent mobility decisions – while improving the diversity of your organization.

The second stage is applying AI and machine learning to your data sets. Algorithms trained with the right data can ensure that ‘hidden gems’ are brought to light, from within your talent pool. Candidates that are ideal for a role – but may otherwise have been overlooked – are ‘suggested’ as matches based on the shared understanding of the skills they have and the skills needed for a particular job, task or development opportunity.

While humans are kept ‘in the loop’ to help assess the recommendations, ethical and explainable AI speeds up and democratizes a range of HR processes.

Introducing AI to your recruitment and internal mobility initiatives could help you reduce unconscious bias and help you deliver on your company’s DE&I commitments. Widening your pools by considering people’s potential, as well as existing skills, will undoubtedly have a positive effect on representation. This means you won’t inadvertently overlook talent that could make fantastic contributions in your business.

Retaining Diverse Talent

When we talk about using skills data and technology to widen the talent pool and thus improve representation in your business, we are not just talking about external recruitment. Skills data about employees is just as important as skills data about candidates when it comes to increasing fairness and reducing bias across the talent lifecycle. If your pipeline is diverse, and your new hires are diverse, but you can’t engage, retain and promote employees who represent various people groups, you are not going to see the full benefits of diverse and inclusive teams.

For example, when you are looking to fill a role, start by looking within. Identifying talent in your organization, and developing those with potential, is likely to be more cost-effective than onboarding new recruits. Similarly, ensuring that people from all walks of life are considered for lateral moves and promotions reduces churn, saves time and money otherwise spent on recruiting, and can lead to higher workforce satisfaction and engagement. An AI-driven Talent Marketplace can accomplish all of these things and can match employee skills with open roles, as well as with mentors, learning opportunities, and short-term gigs – and ensures everyone in the organization feels they have a transparent path towards success.

We know people are so much more than their protected characteristics. Thinking of your colleagues as individuals with a unique blend of skills, potential, desires, and preferences will help take your DE&I efforts from performance to action, and help remove unintended bias from each part of the talent lifecycle. And for technology companies, it just might be the key to catching up, and closing the gap between your best intentions and true diversity, equity and inclusion at every level of your organization.

Beamery’s Talent Lifecycle Management platform helps businesses reduce bias and take a more purposeful approach to DE&I by enabling more holistic and human experiences across the talent lifecycle. Read our case study with VMWare to learn more.