Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Diversity 2.0: Tech Companies Rewrite Internal Hiring Code 

The Grace Hopper Celebration demonstrated many women find exciting careers in computer science. But as all participants agreed, there's still a lot of work ahead to level the field and crack the glass ceiling.

The face of computer science is changing as organizations large and small proactively embrace a culture of diversity in hiring, retention, and promotion. But diversity goes far beyond gender, color, and religion, to encompass thought and culture to result in a richer palette of knowledge that creates better work environments, products, and customer experiences.

"Diversity is an inclusion of different ideas," said Liz Centoni, vice president and general manager, SP Access, at Cisco in an interview during the Grace Hopper Celebration this week. "You can be multi-disciplinary and come up with a business problem that needs to be solved – and develop the solution to solve it. You can disrupt the way the world lives, works, and plays, and you're transforming lives; you need multi-discipline, and that's where disruption comes from. Women engineers make the infinite difference and [Cisco Executive Vice President of Engineering Pankaj Patel] is setting the tone because the tone needs to be set from the top."

Hiring women and creating a welcoming workplace is critical to serving customers well and forging a stronger business, executives agreed.

"I think one of the diversity points is going to be that diversity of thought, that diversity of training. An art major will approach a problem a lot differently than a computer science major," said Mick Slattery, president of North America at Avanade in an interview at the Grace Hopper event.

Combining computer science with other majors or minors also could encourage more women to participate in this career, executives said. And, as enterprises' engineering requirements change – with the focus switching to collaborative, not independent, work – the stereotype of the business must alter to meet the job's realities, said Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO, in a Grace Hopper Celebration keynote.

Incoming junior Rubba Ashwas of the University of Central Florida checked out Cisco and interviewed for internships at GHC. (Source: EnterpriseTech)

Incoming junior Rubba Ashwas of the University of Central Florida got a personalized shirt from Cisco, after interviewing for internships at GHC. (Source: EnterpriseTech)

The conference – which crammed 12,000 primarily younger women into downtown Houston for three days – provided an opportunity for established female engineers, programmers, and computer scientists to share their experiences with the next generation of women to enter the profession. There certainly are more females coming into the field compared with those who pursued engineering or computing jobs 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. But the numbers are still too low.

In 2014, women held only 26 percent of professional computing occupations in the United States workforce, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT); only 6 percent of CIOs were women, the organization found. By comparison, women held 57 percent of all professional occupations last year, NCWIT reported. For non-white women, the numbers are even worse: Of the total computing workforce, Asian women represented 5 percent, African-American women made up 3 percent, and Hispanic women totaled a mere 1 percent in 2014, NCWIT said.

"Technology is revolutionizing almost every part of our lives and it's doing so at an unprecedented pace. Yet today, women hold only 26 percent of all tech jobs," Wojicicki, said. "If women do not participate in tech they are losing the chance of influencing the largest economic and social shift of this century. The fact women represent such a small percent of the workforce shouldn’t be a wake up call. It should be a Sputnik moment."

More enterprises have realized this. Whether it's a public relations move or a true realization that they are missing out on half the population of candidates, businesses increasingly recognize they must attract and retain more women technologists and are implementing multiple programs, both internally and in partnership with organizations like the Anita Borg Institute, the Society of Women Engineers, and Women in HPC, to create or nurture inclusive cultures.

Women who entered the field years ago are using the lessons they learned to help younger generations – their organizations, the industry, and society at large – succeed.

For some, like Wojicicki, it began with starting what led to one of the nation's most generous maternity (and paternity) leave programs at Google. Many created formal or informal mentorship programs, both to get and give advice to promote their careers.

PwC supports formal and grassroots efforts, Chief Diversity Officer Lisa Feigen Dugal told EnterpriseTech. They include three-day experiential programs and tactical exercises with leadership teams to a group of female technologists who wanted to network that grew to a 1,400-person group, she said.

"They've been passionate about profiling women in the company and finding role models and what they can do to support each other," said Feigen Duval. "Engrained in all of our programs are conversations about diversity and openness and inclusiveness. We moved away from the era of the 80s where everyone went through their diversity program and checked a box. Part of what that did was make many people afraid to talk about it. Now we're trying to encourage people to talk about [diversity] in the right way, with the right vocabulary."

Attendees interviewed at an array of potential employers, from finance to tech to retail and more. (Source: EnterpriseTech)

Attendees interviewed at an array of potential employers, from finance to tech to retail and more. (Source: EnterpriseTech)

Among the crowded hallways, technology companies' message was apparently coming through. Throngs of young women – and several young men – lined up to interview for internships or full-time positions at booths from consumer-facing, financial, application developers, and other businesses, along with the U.S. Army and several higher-ed institutions.

"If I had my pick of anyone in the world, I'd want to work for Google," said Hope Haugstad, a 'super junior' studying web development and software engineering at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn. "I don't mind the size of the company. I'm focused on where I'm going to learn, what has the best program for grad school or an internship."

Jen Rice, director of global talent engagement at eBay took a quick break from the steady stream of eager applicants to discuss the task her 85 employees had to address over three days.

"There's great, very high caliber engineering talent here," she said. "We filled one-third of the interviews in advance and do two-thirds at the booth. We fill our interview slots too quickly. We have quite a few positions, both full-time and internships."

About the author: Alison Diana

Managing editor of Enterprise Technology. I've been covering tech and business for many years, for publications such as InformationWeek, Baseline Magazine, and Florida Today. A native Brit and longtime Yankees fan, I live with my husband, daughter, and two cats on the Space Coast in Florida.

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