Supporting inclusivity in the office

Many organizations are trying to change the limited demographic of people working in technology, but some are finding the process difficult.

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We’ve all heard how the technology industry, and cybersecurity in particular, is skewed toward a very limited demographic. A lot of people are working very hard to change that, so it can be a more welcoming industry for all types of people. Ideally, we’d just go out and find a wider variety of qualified applicants, and all would be well. But in practice, it can be more challenging than this, even if you do find a wealth of diverse candidates.

I recently spoke at the EDUCAUSE conference for IT in Higher Education, where there were several breakout sessions for people in the field to discuss the challenges of hiring and retaining talented people who are not within the majority group. The difficulties people cited fell into a few basic categories, such as making sure people felt heard, seen and supported. But it was equally important for all employees to have time for things outside of their work responsibilities, so people can work at their optimum.

Here are a few tips for improving your efforts to hire and retain a wider variety of people.

1) Help create support networks
Not every organization has the benefit of being located in a multicultural, urban environment, where attracting a diverse pool of applicants can be easier. If teleworking is not an option, identify groups in your town that could help people create a robust support network, to be presented as part of the recruitment process. Partner new hires with a buddy or provide a welcoming committee to help them acclimate to your company or town.

2) Amplify voices
The whole idea of having an inclusive work culture is to help provide a wide variety of viewpoints. But it can be hard for people who aren’t already part of the in-group to get their ideas heard, especially because in most meetings just a few people tend to dominate discussions. Not only managers but the whole team can repeat or "amplify” suggestions made by those who might otherwise be ignored. Get more participation from everyone by asking attendees to provide suggestions before meetings.

3) Assign office housework
Keeping the wheels of office life turning takes a surprising amount of behind-the-scenes “housework”. To make sure that this is distributed equitably, assign it to one person who has this as part of their job description, or to each member of your team equally.

4) Root out implicit bias
Active self-promotion, and asking for raises or promotions may sound good, but they can backfire against women, for instance. Research shows that anonymizing applications, joint (rather than separate) evaluation for promotions, and considering a candidate’s level of trust within the organization can help decrease the effects of implicit bias.

5) Kill the “Cult of Busy”
Spending long hours in the office without time to unwind can have seriously negative effects on our productivity. It’s essential for men and women, especially those already in management, to create a culture of healthy work/life integration by modeling this behavior themselves. Recognize or reward employees for their actual productivity rather than for spending long hours in the office.

6) Understand that everyone has non-work obligations
Some people have children to take care of. Some people are caregivers for their parents or other relatives. Perhaps your employees are in the National Guard, or are volunteers for firefighting or Search and Rescue organizations. There are countless crucial organizations that depend on otherwise-employed people to function. And having other hobbies outside of work – especially in an industry as high-stress as cybersecurity – is good for our mental health.

Assume that all employees, regardless of gender or marital status, have external obligations. Make sure that all of your employees have the wherewithal to attend to them. Let new recruits know that you give employees time to attend to those responsibilities, as this makes your company more attractive, and your current employees more productive and loyal.

Creating a more inclusive workplace benefits companies as well as employees. While some of these suggestions may seem unintuitive or costly, changes that make a workplace more fair and equitable benefit all of us, not just women or other minorities in tech.

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