How to build a more diverse IT team

Want to attract a wider range of candidates? Here's how to reduce bias in your hiring process as you strive for diversity on IT teams
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I often hear hiring managers use the phrase “hiring for cultural fit.” Generally, that means hiring someone who fits in with your current team or the overall organization and is less likely to rock the proverbial boat.

This may seem like a solid plan to ensure that the culture you’ve worked hard to cultivate doesn’t change with each new hire. But the problem with this hiring philosophy is that it does little to meaningfully evolve or improve the organization.

It turns out that when you hire people who think, act, or perhaps even look similar to your existing team, you don’t change or evolve. More importantly, you are less likely to build a diverse workforce. And that has impact: Companies that fail to build workforce diversity may find themselves unable to attract enough new talent or keep up with their competition.

Companies that fail to build workforce diversity may find themselves unable to attract enough new talent or keep up with their competition.

[ Want more on today's IT job market? Read 5 flourishing and 5 fading IT careers. ]

So how can you, as an IT leader, increase diversity within your organization?

Start with job descriptions

Job descriptions are often the first level of interaction that candidates have with your organization. These descriptions outline what you are looking for in candidates, but more importantly, they also provide a peek into your organization’s culture.

Avoid potentially gender-coded titles like quarterback, ninja, and rockstar in your job descriptions. A report from the National Center for Women & Information Technology states that while 57 percent of the U.S. workforce is made up of women, only 26 percent of technology-related positions are held by women. Generally speaking, such titles may appeal more to male applicants than female ones. Instead, use specific job titles like DevOps, cloud engineer, or developer. Within the description, consider using terms like leadercommitment, and inclusive.

[ Why is the DevOps engineer role controversial? Read also: DevOps engineer: IT's most in-demand title for the future. ]

According to a report from McKinsey, a group they identify as “women of color” hold a mere 4 percent of roles in technology while accounting for approximately 16 percent of the population. There are many regional organizations like Women in Technology that offer networking, mentoring, and support for women in the technology sector. These organizations can also serve as a recruiting venue for advertising open roles.

Is a degree necessary?

There is a bias towards hiring candidates with college degrees, even though many hiring managers feel recent graduates are inadequately prepared to succeed. Of course, roles like architect and doctor require years of higher education and extensive training, but many roles within IT do not. Keep in mind that not everyone has the means and opportunity to attend college, and many of the day-to-day operations skills in IT roles are often learned on the job. Don’t overlook an applicant’s aptitude and attitude to succeed.

Evaluate each job description to determine if a college degree is necessary for someone to be successful in that role. Whenever possible, remove the college degree requirement. This will lead to a more diverse and larger pool of applicants. For the sake of transparency, I worked my way up to the director of IT role for a global software company before returning to college to complete my undergraduate and graduate degrees. In no way did the lack of a degree limit me from succeeding in those roles.

Increase diversity of industry

I believe in order to change an industry, one needs to hire successful people from outside that industry. For example, some of today’s healthcare CIOs are coming from sectors such as software.

I have been fortunate to lead organizations across vertical industries including healthcare, telecom, and services. In each initial interview, I was asked why I should be considered as I came from outside their industry. Invariably, I assured them that my technical and business background was applicable regardless of vertical.

For each role, I brought aspects from other industries and applied them to improve processes. For example, security best practices from Fintech can be applied to secure healthcare records. The lesson? Do not prohibit candidates who have been successful in other industries from having the chance to succeed in your company.

Do not prohibit candidates who have been successful in other industries from having the chance to succeed in your company.

Don't limit yourself by geography

Now that many organizations have embraced a remote workforce, there’s a greater emphasis on hiring for skills rather than for geographic location. This creates more opportunities to blend teams from different backgrounds.

Different time zones not only provide expanded coverage when supporting clients, but they can offer the diversity that comes from regional cultures. For example, perhaps midwestern pragmatism could help balance west coast ambition in development teams, or southern hospitality might help your client support teams.

As traditional offices become less important, look for opportunities to create a blend of teams from different locations, which may be more representative of your client base.

Diversity leads to success

Express your commitment to diversity and inclusion not only on your website but in job postings. Diversity can be a competitive advantage. Job search engine states that diverse workforces offer benefits that include “expanded creativity and problem-solving; Better decision-making; Increased profitability and productivity; Enhanced employee engagement and retention; and Improved company reputation.”

Reducing bias in your hiring process can ultimately promote a diversity of candidates, and it is this diversity that will lead to evolving and improving your culture. Remember, the beauty of a kaleidoscope doesn’t come from a single color or shape, but from how those individual colors move together to create something ever-changing.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Jason James is CIO of Net Health. He has led IT operations for fast-growth technology companies for over twenty years.