Dell World 2015: Panelists reveal the real issue with diversity in tech

By Megan Anderle, Editor and Contributing Writer

The lack of diversity in the business world is well documented.

Women account for only 4.4 percent of CEOs at S&P 500 companies, according to Catalyst. Black CEOs represent 1.2 percent, and Latino and Asian CEOs, make up for 1.6 percent each, according to a study by Diversity Inc.

Companies are rethinking their hiring practices and talent development strategies to cultivate a new workforce, but merely expanding the hiring pool doesn’t address the daily challenges faced by women and racial or ethnic minorities after they land jobs. It’s a multifaceted issue. At Dell World 2015, panelists shared best practices for how IT can create an inclusive culture, with a diverse pipeline of talent and more empowered women leaders.

Aongus Hegarty, president of Dell EMEA; Jody Mahoney, senior vice president at Anita Borg Indiyuyr; Javier Polit, CIO for Coca-Cola company; Elizabeth Gore, Dell’s entrepreneur-in-residence, and Carolynn Johnson, COO of DiversityInc. came together for the Oct. 21 discussion. 

“It’s a pipeline issue,” Mahoney said. “It’s going to take a while before girls in middle school see change, but there are ways that organizations can start changing now.” 

Hegarty emphasized why diversity makes good business sense and why change has to come from the top down. 

“Diversity and inclusion [are] a business imperative,” he said. “It’s absolutely critical for businesses to succeed, but unfortunately the majority of leaders are men, so we have to engage leadership and men through into this, with men advocating for real change.”

The need for data on workplace diversity

The first step is companies need to examine hiring practices and take an honest, comprehensive look at their work culture — how women and people of color are elevated with mentorship and leadership opportunities. 

GoDaddy came out with a report like this on Oct. 14, which revealed that female executives are paid at a rate almost 4 percent less than their male counterparts. The company is now taking steps to correct this disparity. “Now we have to understand the reasons why we don’t have more women represented in some senior software development roles, and the drivers behind gender pay gap at the management level,” GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving said in a press release. 

At the panel, Mahoney commended GoDaddy on its courageousness in coming forth about its shortcomings.

On a macro level, Dell examines the work environment for female entrepreneurs in countries across the world in its annual Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard. In the 2015 report, the United States ranked No. 1 out of 31 countries but only received a score of 70 out of 100.

“It takes a 360-degree understanding of women entrepreneurs around the world and their access to capital markets,” Gore said. “Even though the United States ranked No. 1, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”

Once businesses have benchmarks, leadership needs proper training. Dell CMO Karen Quintos and CEO Michael Dell have gone through special training programs for how to shape the legacy technology company in an inclusive way. In the past year, Dell has moved up a spot to 31 on DiversityInc’s list, “Top 50 Companies for Diversity.” Part of this success comes from training.

For every company, training is necessary because simply hiring people of color or women for the sake of diversity won’t improve work culture, according to Polit. 

“Because then we hire a Hispanic person who might not be qualified, which isn’t good for business,” he said.

Part of the problem is that even employees who are in favor of diversity initiatives have subconscious biases in the way they interact with women and people of color. They might not be aware of these subtle biases. 

Even human resources personnel aren’t immune to these biases. 

“Early in my career I was promoting all the men who worked for me, and demoting all the women who worked for me, and I wasn’t even aware of it,” Mahoney said. “We need training to help everyone understand what their biases are.” 

How executives can get involved

One of the things Polit does to create a better culture is closely mentor six people in the realm of STEM each year. These people come from different backgrounds and generations, he says.

Coca-Cola employees have even gone to the homes of people they want to recruit in nations where the environment for working women is especially difficult.

“We’ve spoken to parents and have explained why we want women to come work for us,” Polit said. “Because we know that when women work with us, we start winning more. It’s the same reason why we are flexible with working mothers.” 

Panelists also highlighted programs for girls and people of color, such as Hour of Code and Girls Who Code, which encourage children of all backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM.

Ultimately, without diversity and cultural inclusivity, businesses won’t innovate as much. 

“The last person you exclude from your team could provide you with the greatest innovation, because they don’t look like you or act like you,” Mahoney said. “That person could leapfrog you into the next century. Yes, it’s about inclusion and race, but it’s really about creating the most innovative ideas.”