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Why is diversity in tech becoming a CIO issue?

CIOs need to take radical steps to increase the number of women and minorities in tech. Deloitte's Anjali Shaikh explains.

In a companion Ask the Expert interview, we asked Deloitte Consulting LLP's Anjali Shaikh why CIOs need to get better at mentoring talent and what they can do to improve their IT mentorship programs.

Shaikh, senior manager in the CIO program at Deloitte Consulting LLP, is the co-author of the recent report, "Cracking the code: How CIOs are redefining mentorship to advance diversity and inclusion."

Here, she focuses on what seems like an intractable problem: the lack of diversity in tech. In fact, CIOs are taking steps to boost the numbers of women and minorities in IT, she says.

Editor's note: The following was edited for length and clarity.

Why pay special attention to diversity in tech as part of a larger IT mentoring program?

Anjali Shaikh: Cultivating diverse teams and leadership pipelines is going to effectively help CIOs battle the shortage of technical talent.

Why is mentoring critical for increasing diversity in tech?

Anjali ShaikhAnjali Shaikh

Shaikh: When we began this research series on executive women in technology and diversity within technology, we started off looking at what made these female technologists successful in their roles. How did successful female CIOs make [the move] from middle management to leadership roles?

Then we started focusing on how IT organizations are looking to increase diversity. Over and over, we found that women and underrepresented minorities who have a mentor or even a sponsor -- not only at work, but early in education -- are more likely to enter and stay in tech-related careers. So, the importance of having someone who likes and feels and acts like [them] is so critical in getting underrepresented minorities and women to stay in technology.

Your report spoke about diversity in tech and inclusion. Are they different issues?

Shaikh: Diversity is what happens when you're looking at what is the makeup of your team, what are the different mindsets, what are the different perspectives and backgrounds of the people you're hiring. Inclusion is inviting those various people from varying backgrounds and mindsets to the table to have a voice. It's making sure you're celebrating that person's diversity and uniqueness: That's really what the definition of inclusion is. Their voice will add value to the discussion and the decision-making process and ensure that you're creating a culture where you're not just being representative of diversity, but you're also making sure it's part of the culture where diverse people can share their voice and background.

How serious have companies, and their CIOs, worked to attract women and minorities and develop them for more senior roles?

Shaikh: Most CIOs recognize this is an important issue, but the statistics are sobering. The stat out there is that it will take 100 years to achieve gender parity. So, although this is top of mind for CIOs, the accountability and measurement of how that happens is key, because a lot of tech inclusion and diversity programs are really missing the mark. IT is providing training programs that promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, but when you look at the corresponding numbers of female IT staff or the percentage of female direct reports to the CIO, the numbers don't add up [to show success]. I don't think women and minorities are actually moving quickly enough to make an acceptable impact.

Isn't diversity in tech a pipeline issue that reaches all the way back into grade school? And if that's the case, how much can CIOs really change this with an IT mentoring program?

Shaikh: There is, in fact, a push for CIOs to extend mentorship outside their organization's four walls and work with different partners, [such as] educational institutions -- middle school, high school, college. [Diversity in tech] is about starting as early as possible, and some CIOs and IT leaders are really embracing that because that's where the root problem is.

But [partnering with schools] is not enough. It's really moving an ecosystem to focus on the larger diversity agenda. It really does take a village when you're looking at this, so it's the school ecosystem and the educational ecosystem but also working with organizations that are promoting STEM education and careers in STEM at the college level. It's about bringing interns at the high school and college level into organizations so they can see what IT careers really look like. There are startups that are using technologies to eliminate some of the hiring biases. Some CIOs are also expanding what it means to recruit from diverse institutions, so not just recruiting from the top-tier schools but going out to the liberal arts schools and the smaller schools, because that's going to increase the diversity quotient in terms of the types of candidates.

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