Solving tech’s diversity problem from the inside

Our panel of women leaders give advice for cultivating the next generation of talent.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently said that “it’s up to tech companies themselves to diversify the white, male-dominated industry.” A diverse work environment opens the doors to underrepresented people and brings together a wide-range of dynamic personalities and talent, which is needed to do the best work possible.

Tech companies are beginning to feel the pressure, yet little progress has been made. For example, Fortune surveyed the top 14 tech companies in Silicon Valley, and the results indicated that on average, women make up about one-third of the workforce, with the best company showing women serving only 29 percent of leadership roles. Companies made slightly better progress on ethnic diversity than they did on increasing their number of female hires.

A panel of female Verizon leaders came together during Women’s History Month earlier this year to discuss the importance of exposing the new generation to a diverse environment, while simultaneously supporting current employees who are trying to break the mold.

Fostering the growth of our communities

“We have to pay back. We owe it to the next generation,” said Amy Lloyd, Director Wireless Operations. We’ve all had people throughout our lives that have helped us propel forward in our careers, and it is our duty and obligation to give back to our communities and future leaders — to educate them, to mentor them, and to prepare them for the workplace.

The goal is for young women, children of color and those in rural America to see the same career opportunities available to the rest of the population. To do so, the proper tools and resources need to be available to students, such as technology, mentorship programs and training opportunities. Middle school and high school programs, like Girls Who Code, expose female youth at an early age to the issues that surround the gender gap. While interest in computer science decreases over time among the female population, the biggest drop off happens between the ages of 13–17, says the organization — further emphasizing the need for these types of youth education programs.

Female and minority executives — and executives in general — can also share their personal experiences, challenges and knowledge of the workforce with college students as they make the transition into the corporate world, through mentoring relationships and on-campus speaking engagements.

“I was surrounded by technical women when I first entered the workforce,” said Jean McManus, Executive Director Architecture & Infrastructure. “If I didn’t have those examples, I may not have stayed on the engineering side.” It can be very isolating as a new hire, if you do not relate or connect with the leaders or peers around you.

Building our internal teams

In addition to fostering the talent in our local communities, tech companies should also focus on improving their recruitment and hiring processes, allowing the doors to open to more underrepresented candidates. They can also leverage their current employee relationships to learn whether the company culture requires that changes be made to become more inclusive. If current employees are unhappy or feel excluded in their work environment, chances are that sentiment will spread to new hires as well.

And don’t be afraid to promote within. Identify your internal employees that are eager to expand their careers and move up the ladder. Regardless of race or gender, give any qualified candidate the opportunity to further grow and develop their skills. They are the future of your company, and the future of our country.

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