How to set – and achieve – DEI goals in IT


Building and maintaining a diverse workforce improves organizations in myriad ways, including fostering innovation, enhancing problem-solving capabilities, attracting top talent, building customer understanding, and contributing to social responsibility. Doing so typically requires that companies adopt a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy to not only hire workers from diverse backgrounds, but also provide an environment in which these workers want to stay.

A key part of that strategy is setting specific goals for hiring and retaining a diverse workforce. Without clear, measurable DEI goals that leaders are held accountable for meeting, it’s all too easy for companies to say they value diversity while maintaining the status quo in their own workforces.

It’s especially important for tech companies and IT departments to set DEI goals, because certain demographics, such as women and Black, Latino, and Indigenous workers, are underrepresented in technology roles. Diversifying their workforces often means that tech leaders must step outside their comfort zones and actively seek out workers from underrepresented groups — and potentially change the corporate or department culture so that all workers feel respected and can expect equity when it comes to pay, promotions, and career growth.

That’s why workforce experts say that company-wide DEI goals aren’t enough. Tech leaders need to set — and meet — DEI goals specifically for technology workers.

“DEI goals are important in IT because underrepresented populations have traditionally been excluded from opportunities in IT and cybersecurity,” said Maxwell Shuftan, director, mission programs and partnerships at SANS Institute.

That’s because they tend to exit the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning path prior to high school, providing little exposure to IT or cybersecurity as a potential career option, he said. In addition, they may not have opportunities to identify their aptitude and interest in technology, and they typically have limited access to high-quality technical education and training.

“Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion is not just good for business; it’s the right thing to do, ensuring all individuals have opportunities to succeed and creating a more robust IT and cyber workforce,” he said.

But how do companies set meaningful DEI goals in IT? Here’s advice from IT leaders and DEI experts.

Take stock

“Setting and achieving DEI goals in IT is about creating a roadmap that reflects the world we live in,” said Greg Vickrey, a director with global technology research and advisory firm ISG. “It’s a mix of art and science — understanding the human element of the teams and backing it up with data.”

Vickrey advised organizations to begin with a complete audit, asking tough questions about the current diversity environment in IT. “This approach helps identify gaps in representation across different groups including race, gender, disability, veteran status, etc.,” he said.

As a research and development leader in the technology industry, Hema Ramaswamy, SVP of engineering at data intelligence platform Tracer, runs DEI initiatives like a technology project. She starts with the “why” and develops a concrete plan with goals, progress metrics, feedback, and improvements.

“At Tracer, we started off with a demographic survey with the goal of identifying the demographic characteristics and background that comprise our team and looking for areas of improvement,” she said. “Oftentimes, we hear about DEI [in terms of] gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc. However, at Tracer, our survey showed that the diverse educational background is where we needed to focus to be equitable and inclusive.”

To achieve DEI goals in IT, tech leaders must be intentional about measuring progress and adopt a comprehensive approach, said Libby Hillenbrand, senior director, leadership development and DEI at Rocket Software. “This begins with a thorough assessment of not only the current demographics and representation mix within your workforce but also engaging your employees for feedback and ideas,” she said.

“Done together, this analysis serves as a foundation for targeted efforts and provides a baseline for measuring progress against industry benchmarks,” Hillenbrand said. “Keep your employees at the center and bring them along on the journey.”

Get specific

Armed with such data, leaders can develop concrete DEI goals that address weak areas.

For example, an IT department might set a goal to increase the representation of women in the software engineering team by 20% over the next 18 months, said Vickrey. Another example is to ensure that at least 30% of leadership roles are filled by individuals from underrepresented groups within the same timeframe.

“These are tangible targets that push us to think differently about recruitment, promotion, and development,” he said.

Other examples of measurable DEI goals include increasing the percentage of women and underrepresented minorities in the IT candidate pool by 40%, as well as sourcing 35% of IT products and services from businesses owned by women, minorities, or other underrepresented groups.

Measure progress and be prepared to adjust tactics

To gauge progress, tech organizations must establish and monitor metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs), said Rocket Software’s Hillenbrand. It’s crucial to have metrics around hiring and retaining women and underrepresented groups, including increasing the number of women and underrepresented groups in leadership roles and in specific geographies.

“Tech companies should also measure promotion rates and pay equity,” she said.

Tech Mahindra, an IT services and consulting company, has initiated targeted recruitment drives aimed at underrepresented communities, not just at the entry level but also in senior and technical roles, said Richard Lobo, the company’s chief people officer. “[This ensures that we are] challenging the status quo and fostering a culture of inclusivity from the top down,” he said.

Beyond the traditional headcount metrics, tech companies are increasingly tracking retention and promotion rates for members of underrepresented groups, as well as conducting employee sentiment analysis through surveys to gauge the effectiveness of DEI initiatives, according to Lobo. This data-driven approach allows leaders to identify gaps, make informed decisions, and continuously refine their strategies, he said.

“Accountability mechanisms have become increasingly sophisticated, with leaders using a mix of qualitative and quantitative metrics to measure progress,” Lobo said.

Esteban Gutierrez, CISO at software company New Relic, noted that it’s harder to incorporate trackable metrics for DEI outside of representational numbers. “You can set goals around this, but it’s more than just hiring [underrepresented] employees,” he said. “It’s not as easy to add metrics to concepts like inclusion or a sense of belonging.”

Gutierrez said mentoring members of underrepresented groups is key to supporting larger organizational DEI efforts. He advised team leads to set up metrics that they can track, such as “how often you [leaders] meet [with members of the underrepresented groups], whether you come prepared with talking points, set a conversation topic for the meeting, or whether you bring any specific work examples to discuss or walk through.”

Monitoring turnover rates can also be revealing, Gutierrez said. Leaders need to take time to analyze and understand the contributing factors of why people leave. IT naturally has a high turnover rate, so it’s important to create a culture of belonging and inclusion that can boost retention.

Hold IT leaders accountable

For tech leaders to hold themselves accountable for meeting DEI goals, they should regularly review progress against their metrics and solicit new approaches from their leaders and ambassadors, Hillenbrand said.

New Relic’s Gutierrez advised team leads to create opportunities for feedback and encourage input from all team members, especially during brainstorms, retrospective meetings, and systematic reflections. “Employee resource group meetings also provide an opportunity for organizational reflection and a space to discuss progress and what efforts still need to be made,” he said.

Another approach that hits closer to home is to tie executives’ pay to meeting DEI goals — and that includes IT leaders.

It’s one thing to say that diversity matters, but it is a completely different thing to have it become a part of your overall compensation, said Keyla Cabret-Lewis, vice president of DEI and talent development at Aflac.

“For several years, diversity goals have been part of our management incentive program,” she said. “As such, failure to reach our goals will result in lesser compensation for company leaders.”

The results? “Women hold more than half of leadership roles and 37% of senior management roles in the company,” Cabret-Lewis said. “In Aflac’s digital services (IT) division, the CIO is a woman, and more than half of her direct reports are women or people of color who serve as Aflac officers (vice presidents).”

Lessons learned

“In my 15 years of experience in the DEI space, I’ve learned that you need both a top-down and bottom-up approach,” Rocket Software’s Hillenbrand said. “Strong executive sponsorship is required, where leadership has the will to drive change. Leaders must be willing to invest in the mechanisms to measure progress, update processes and programming, while modeling the desired behaviors themselves. You must also capture the hearts and minds of employees by inviting them to be part of the solutions.”

To that end, tech organizations should establish programs that enlist the passion of their employees to help connect them to their companies’ cultures.

“These programs should work to provide educational resources, creative events, programs, and open forums, both internal and external, to raise cross-cultural awareness and reinforce their commitment to inclusion and belonging,” she said.

Tracer’s Ramaswamy agreed that DEI requires a commitment from the top — and that it should be run as an initiative where progress is tracked and altered for its effectiveness. “To advocate for the DEI program is an arduous task. It requires allies and partners top-down and across multiple different departments and levels,” she said.

DEI isn’t a one-off campaign but an ongoing commitment, said ISG’s Vickrey. There is no final destination; it’s a continuous journey — one that requires perseverance and adaptability.

“Early on, I learned that not every initiative will work for every team or every individual, so stay flexible and adaptive,” he said.

“Another lesson is the power of transparency,” he added. “If you fall short of goals, be honest about it and it will strengthen the IT team’s commitment to DEI. It’s all about trust, and trust comes from being candid with each other, through the wins and the setbacks.”

Related reading:

Diversity and Inclusion, IT Leadership, IT Management

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