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How to Keep a Diverse Workforce

Lucy Sanders

CEO and Co-Founder, NCWIT

The underrepresentation in computing represents a failure to capitalize on the benefits of diverse perspectives. Gender-diverse organizations and departments perform better financially, especially when women occupy a significant proportion of top management positions. They demonstrate superior team dynamics and productivity and produce work teams that stay on schedule and under budget.

Increasing the meaningful participation of all women in the field of computing is critical, particularly in terms of innovation and development. Having more women from various backgrounds expands the qualified employee pool, promotes equality and reflects the customer base.

To attract and keep more women, cultures, systems, and processes must attend to the experiences, needs and conditions faced by all women. Without explicit and careful attention to intersectionality, such efforts often default to a focus on straight, middle- or upper-class white women — thus marginalizing the concerns of women of color, LGBTQIA people, working-class women and women with disabilities, just to name just a few. Whether intentional or unintentional, we cannot allow this to be the default. We must consider intersectionality in all that we do.

How to make it work

First, clarify which social identity categories of people you are directing your efforts towards. Consider who may feel explicitly included, and who may feel inadvertently excluded. In other words, it’s important to always ask, “Which women?” when considering who benefits from change efforts. Second, it is important to do some investigation into what their concerns, needs and interests are — even if you identify as a member of some or all of those groups.

For example, in our work at NCWIT, we often see that companies have diversity in their employee ranks, but not in upper management or in more prestigious technical positions. We ask those companies, “What kinds of systemic barriers might be in place that unintentionally segregate roles?”

A healthy questioning of assumptions, language and the design and implementation of diversity efforts are critical to ensuring that the tech industry is a place where all women can thrive and contribute to innovation for our nation.

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