On the heels of helping her company, Micron Technology, achieve comprehensive pay equity for underrepresented groups earlier this year, Sharawn Connors was anointed the firm's new chief diversity officer.
Connors' work in that vein has only begun.
Micron, which has 40,000 employees in 17 countries, has come up with six initiatives focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), each with C-suite sponsorship to ensure someone takes ownership. The initiatives include increasing representation of underserved groups in Micron's employee base, strengthening its culture of inclusion, and increasing diversity among the suppliers they use.
The computer memory and data storage products maker is part of a wave of companies of all sizes that are focusing more heavily on tangible steps to improve DEI in their organizations, after renewed momentum for the Black Lives Matter movement last spring. In May 2020, for example, a majority of American Express investors voted in support of a shareholder resolution requesting the company report on how its internal workplace practices align with the company's stated DEI commitment.
In a recent Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey, 96% of CEOs polled now consider DEI a strategic business priority and say they are prioritizing or investing in DEI initiatives in nearly every area of their business, including talent recruitment, development, advancement, and retention; DEI data and metrics transparency; community engagement; executive leadership composition, and board composition.
If they weren't already aware, Deloitte's clients now realize "a one-strategy approach isn't enough," says Anjali Shaikh, a senior manager at Deloitte Consulting.
As Micron has done, other organizations also have committed to taking actions, she says. "As they declare aspirations, they're committing to making sure they're not just doing things but driving outcomes for equity and holding people accountable."
In some instances, metrics are being included in performance goals as part of year-end performance reviews, Shaikh says. Metrics might include looking at how leaders are managing succession, how many women they have mentored or sponsored, and whether they are using technology and data to look at promotion and retention rates, she says.
The data shows taking such steps is critical. According to Dice's first-ever Equality in Tech report, 57% of respondents who identify as women said they have experienced some form of gender discrimination, compared to only 10% of respondents who identify as men. The study also found that 48% of Black respondents were the most likely to have experienced racial discrimination, followed by Hispanic/Latino respondents (30%).
Further, only 37% of technologists identifying as women said they were extremely or moderately impressed with their company's response to gender diversity and inclusion movements, and 17% of technologists identifying as women expressed that they are not all impressed with their company's DEI initiatives.
Organizations must pay attention – or they risk losing out on key talent. More than half of job seekers said they would exclude a company from their job search if their values and positions on diversity and inclusion didn't coincide with their own beliefs, according to a March report by Appcast and Boston Consulting Group.
Connors acknowledges that Micron has "gaps" in hiring and promoting women, including those of color. With her guidance, Micron has set up partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). At Norfolk University in Virginia, for example, Connors said Micron has funded a "clean room" where students can build equipment or wafers, "so they're actually practicing [working on] the chips we use,'' she says.
Micron's IT Director Brian Best, who is Black, is also working to increase the partnership and create a pipeline to bring Norfolk graduates into the company, Connors says. "We're trying to do that with a number of universities, so students understand who Micron is and the opportunities we have available."
Lisa Gelobter remembers what it was like to be mistaken for an administrative assistant "at every company I've worked at," even though she assumed her first VP title in 2001. Gelobter is CEO and co-founder of tEQuitable, an independent, confidential platform designed to address issues of bias, discrimination, and harassment in the workplace. Her career has included stints as the chief digital officer at BET, the chief digital service officer in the Obama administration, and a member of the team that launched Hulu.
The impetus for tEQuitable came from Gelobter's strong belief that organizations need to do more to create a sense of inclusion, equity, belonging, and retention.
Gelobter cites a 2017 Tech Leavers Study by the Kapor Center for Social Impact that showed women leave the tech industry at twice the rate of white men, while Blacks and Latinos leave the industry 3.5 times as frequently as white men. "People come into the industry not feeling welcome and they're leaving,'' she says. "That's exactly why we brought tEQuitable in. It's about helping organizations make systemic change in their culture."
The platform lets employees report problems and seek professional advice on how to respond to systemic issues ranging from the subtle to the overt. This helps assure employees their organizations "have created a safe, inclusive and equitable workplace,'' she says.
tEQuitable is an "informal channel" that provides advice and lets employees explore their options after an incident. For example, "If my boss makes a sexist crack, that's not the totality of the situation, but I would like the behavior to change,'' Gelobter says. It also provides learning modules focused on how to deal with micro-aggressions and inequities and learning how to respond to backhanded compliments like "Oh, you're Black, but you're so articulate," she says.
Since the spring of 2020, Gelobter says, she has been "overwhelmed" by the number of people coming to her organization looking for information. She recalls closing four contracts for the tEQuitable software platform in one recent week.
"Progressive organizations recognize they need more a diverse employee base because their customers are more diverse and their products will benefit from diversity,'' Gelobter says. "So they've conscientiously been making steps in this direction … and they can attract top talent — people care about this."
Deloitte's Shaikh agrees the business world is finally ready for DEI. "Everyone's talking about it, from the board level down."
Esther Shein is a freelance technology and business writer based in the Boston area.
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