Decoding Diversity in Tech: A Practical Guide

Grand Circus shares insights on diversity in tech and how to make it a company priority

Diversity gets talked about a lot in tech circles.  It’s not a new issue but one that has become especially topical since Google’s famous (and damning) 2014 employee survey.  The survey results laid bare Google’s record on diversity; only 30% of Google’s workforce are women, 3% Hispanic and 2% Black.  Not good.

So why does this matter?

At Grand Circus, we think that the tech industry should reflect the diversity of our broader community.  We’ve baked this idea into our core values and it guides how we hire team members, recruit students and design programs.  I’m proud of our record but in city where 90% of the population is Black or Latino we have more work to do.

percentage of students that are people of color

If the business case justification for diversity is more your thing, then implementing a diverse hiring program will open your organization to a deeper pool of talent.  An obvious point right? And especially good news for Detroit employers who face one of the largest shortfalls of tech talent in the country (according to White House research, we have the 6th largest imbalance between the supply and demand for tech jobs).

So what is the problem and what do we do about it?

As a starting point,  there are not enough women or people of color studying computer science. CODE2040 estimates that just 18% of computer science grads are Black or Latino.  A problem for sure with no short-term fix.

But it gets worse.

Despite the number of graduates I just mentioned, Code2040 estimates that only 9% of the total U.S. tech workforce are made up by Blacks and Latinos.  Think about that.  Around 50% of the available pool of Black and Latino tech talent are either not being hired or they’re leaving tech for other industries.  That’s unacceptable.

So what can you do to increase diversity in your company?

1) Talk about diversity as a team.

While the results of Google’s survey initially drew criticism it also started a national conversation and the shockwaves have been profound. The data has sparked diversity discussions throughout the industry; a necessary first step in making change happen.

It’s important to discuss the issue with your teams, evaluate your own company’s diversity performance and start acknowledging your shortcomings. For far too long, the topic of diversity has been taboo. Companies avoid talking about it because they don’t know how or sometimes because they don’t want to offend anyone.

Internal conversations can help your business determine what challenges the team may have (for example, maybe they don’t know the appropriate language to use when referring to a person of color), and put you on the path to correcting the problem.

In March, Grand Circus launched a series of internal Diversity Training sessions. It gave our staff the chance to ask questions, clarify language and better understand our mission. We are proud of the diversity within our team and students, and we continue to find ways to improve both. From those initial conversations, we identified a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), regularly evaluate those numbers and have a solid plan in place.

2) Be alert to the subtle cues that reveal your commitment to diversity.  

Everything you do or say mattersthe images of team members on your marketing materials, the words you use in your job ads, the events you host in your community, the things you say about diversity on your site.  These may seem like small details to focus on, but if overlooked, could undermine your effort to make a change

3) It’s not enough to say you care.

Companies need to put hard numbers around diversity and tie those numbers to pay and performance. Start seriously considering what your business should be doing to become more diverse and create an actionable plan to get there. Construct SMART goals and continue to evaluate areas of improvement.

At Grand Circus around 39% of our students are women and 37% Black and Latino—a set of numbers we monitor very closely.  These KPIs are discussed regularly by our admissions team, reported monthly at our company-wide team meetings and generally underpin our plans for increasing classroom diversity.  

percentage of students at Grand Circus that are women

4) You need to think differently about hiring.  

It turns out that 88% of U.S. jobs go to friends and family members, i.e. jobs go to other people that look a lot like us.  One simple approach is to look for talent in new places.  At Grand Circus, we tried this approach with a recent instructor search.  In addition to sharing the job posting with our regular audience, we reached out to Blacks in Technology, HBCU job boards and worked with SouthWest Solutions to broaden our reach.  What happened? Our candidate pool doubled.

How can Grand Circus help you with your diversity agenda?

At Grand Circus, we’re excited about several programs aimed at increasing diversity in tech.  Last month, for example, with the support of Google for Entrepreneurs & CODE2040, we announced a coordinated set of programs to increase the representation of Black and Latino communities in tech (Learn more in our blog Meet Grand Circus’ Entrepreneur-in-Residence by Tara Reed, who is leading these efforts).

In May, we also launched DEVELOP(her), a Java bootcamp designed specifically for women.  The program, delivered in partnership with the Hagerman foundation, TEK systems and Michigan Council for Women in Technology (MCWT) will train an amazing group of 20 women in Detroit and Flint this summer. Upon graduation, those 20 women will have the skills and support necessary to thrive in a career in tech.

Additionally, Grand Circus hosts quarterly women’s events in conjunction with Google for Entrepreneurs. These sessions are designed to support and elevate women in their respective fields, giving them resources and mentorship to grow both personally and professionally. Our last event, in April, focused on Female Leaders in Detroit, sharing wisdom on how women prepare for stressful situations and other challenges.

Diversity is a defining issue for the tech industry and a key factor in our city’s maturity as a tech hub.  Are you prepared to do something about it?

Are you ready to diversify your workforce? Become a Grand Circus Hiring Partner! 

Follow Damien at @damienrocchi and stay posted on @GrandCircusCo for more blog posts from our CEO

This blog is Part 1 in our blogging series on diversity. Check out Part 2: Meet Grand Circus’ Entrepreneur-in-Residence.