How data analytics can drive workforce diversity

Many companies are struggling to make their IT teams more inclusive. Is it time for data analytics to take over the job?

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From controversies like Gamergate, which sparked death threats against female game developers, to headlines like Newsweek magazine's recent "What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women," it's questionable whether things are better for female techies today than they were 20 years ago.

While women make up 57% of the overall workforce, they account for less than a quarter of all technology professionals. And among higher-ranking positions, women represent only 20% of CIOs at Fortune 250 companies.

And Silicon Valley is notorious for its poor representation of minority groups. Google recently released data on the diversity of its workforce. A meager 2% is African-American while 3% is Hispanic. Yet 30% of Google's workforce is Asian; 61% white. "We're not where we want to be when it comes to diversity," says the report, which is posted on Google's site.

Even corporations known for their progressive policies and sophisticated technologies seem stuck in the Dark Ages when it comes to diversity. Only 15% of Facebook's techies are women; at LinkedIn, women make up a dismal 17% of the tech team.

Fortunately, there are some signs of progress. High-profile female executives like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman are now household names. Female CIOs lead IT at Wal-Mart, Symantec and GE.

And formal initiatives are underway to inspire future generations of women and minorities to pursue jobs in the high-tech industry. Facebook and LinkedIn recently announced plans to jointly launch mentoring and support programs at colleges that would lure more female talent to Silicon Valley. In January, Intel earmarked $300 million to improve the diversity of its workforce and make the tech industry more enticing to women and minorities.

Yet many argue that talk of the importance of diversifying IT teams is more lip service than conviction. "Most people, when you ask them how they think they're doing in improving diversity, would say, ‘Pretty good,'" says John Reed, senior executive director of IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology. "But when you actually see the data, it can be very disappointing. They rarely have made as much progress as they think."

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