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Diversity Builds Teams; Inclusion Makes Them Strong

I recently had the pleasure of attending a virtual panel discussion moderated by my colleague, Tara Wyborny, Director of Junior Talent Programs at Genesis10, as part of MKE Tech’s Women Entrepreneurship Week.

Diversity builds teams, inclusion makes strong-BlogThe topic was “Actionable Solutions to Increase Diversity & Inclusion in Tech,” and the discussion was lively and informative. On the panel were three amazing women in technology: Li Jacobsen, Vice President of Information Technology at Kohl’s; Deepti Suri, Director, Cloud Infrastructure DevOps, Automation, and DBA Services at Foot Locker; Irrisol Arce, Senior Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Northwestern Mutual.  And, one of our own Dev10 Alumni, Christina Jeong, Software Engineer at Ameriprise Financial Services.

The discussion focused on three key topics:

Number 1 in circleHiring managers can make an impact on diversity and inclusion and drive real change.

First, we have to understand that diversity means much more than someone who doesn’t look like you. It means anyone and everyone with a different background, personality or path. “Bringing these differences together builds stronger teams,” said Li Jacobsen of Kohl’s, who suggested we look beyond traditional methods of recruiting and hiring to consider non-traditional ways of identifying diverse talent. “Consider programs that give people a chance who wouldn’t have it or gives them a second chance.” 

How do we start changing our hiring practices which are steeped in academic performance and expectations of an individual’s background? One way is to debias the language in job descriptions and focus on the job’s requirements so we can more objectively evaluate the candidate during the interview process. In addition, making job descriptions more inclusive and welcoming such as “bring your passion and willingness to learn” may encourage people to apply that might not have after reading a laundry list of requirements.

Number 2
Formal mentorship plays a key role in retaining a diverse and inclusive team.

A good mentor takes time to understand the unique challenges her mentee may be facing and thinks about the inclusive aspects of mentoring. We don’t want to mentor to our own perspective of what mentoring is all about. Further, there is a difference between mentoring and then advocating for a person. “Women are often over-mentored and under-sponsored,” said Irrisol Arce of Northwestern Mutual. 

Further, in some situations the lack of representation presents challenges when it comes to employees seeing someone they can relate to or go to for guidance. “In some ways, a woman may want to leave this situation because they feel alone,” said Christina Jeong of Ameriprise Financial Services. “In other ways, she may become determined to stay so that she can be that person others can approach.”

Number 3 in circle
Diversity in hiring and retaining a team of diverse tech workers truly makes a difference.

Having an authentic connection with the people on your team—taking the time to get to know them and understand what is important to them—builds relationships that keep people connected and wanting to stay on the team and with the company. “Studies show that employees who feel they belong will work harder even for less pay,” said Deepti Suri of Foot Locker. “We don’t necessarily want them to make less, but we do want their contributions.  So, creating this sense of belonging is critical to retention.”

As important as advocating for underrepresented groups in the workplace is modeling equality and respectful behavior. “There is a first time for everything, and that time is now,” said Jacobsen of Kohl’s. “Be brave and call out bad behavior. It is important to let others know what is right to drive behavior adjustment. Teams will feel that from their leader, and they will want to stay.”

Genesis10’s Dev10 Software Developer Training Program addresses the tech talent gap-and increases diversity in tech by looking beyond candidates who have computer science degrees to those with a background in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) or demonstrated technical acumen and coding experience. By expanding our talent pool to those outside of computer science, we significantly improve access to diverse talent.

A new cohort of Dev10 Associates just graduated from our program in Milwaukee. Learn more.