Moving the Needle on Diversity in the Workforce

A diverse workforce can help spur innovation in the IT department. It can lead to greater productivity throughout the organization, resulting in stronger financial performance. But it’s not easy to build a corporate culture that embraces diversity in all its aspects.

In August, Ryan Daily, associate editor, No Jitter, hosted an Enterprise Virtual Connect session on “Moving the Needle on Diversity and Inclusion.” Here is an edited summary of a conversation with Kari Mattek, senior director, digital product management, unified communications, and content services at Northwestern Mutual.

Q. Why is workforce diversity important?

Mattek: With all the shifts in our world, diversity is no longer a “nice-to-have;” it’s essential. Companies need to offer a welcoming and safe workplace for everyone. That helps employees be more productive. They feel they are being heard and adding value to the organization.

Q. What have you done to promote diversity?

Mattek:  Diversity has shown its value in many different ways, and we want to understand, learn and lean into this opportunity. In IT, we work closely with human resources (HR) to have an inclusive culture for a diverse workforce. This is a huge focus for us.

Q. For enterprises looking this issue, what first steps would you recommend?

Mattek: Start with listening sessions. This can help make people aware of their unconscious biases in a non-threatening manner. In our organization, we have held candid feedback sessions, where people tell stories about their experiences. That helps in raising issues and educating the workforce about behaviors that seem insensitive.

Q. What else are you doing?

Mattek: We look to empower others to be leaders in the workplace. We also have an awareness campaign to encourage people to speak up if someone is doing or saying something that might be offensive to someone. That educational process is particularly important for contact center agents.

Q. Any recommendations for building a more diverse IT department?

Mattek: When looking at talent, evaluate individuals without names – just as skills and experiences. Everyone has implicit biases and we tend to want to hire people like us. So doing it on a no-name basis might give you a different perspective.

Over the long term, one of the issues is getting young adults from diverse backgrounds interested in technology careers. We have partnered with elementary and middle schools with STEM programs, so students will know there is a future career for them in technology.

Q. What about gender disparities:

Mattek: IT is a male dominated field, so women need to assert themselves. One approach is to find a supportive senior leader who wants to help change the culture. For instance, if someone starts speaking over you, bring it up at that time. Those simple actions can go a long way in changing the culture.

Q. How fast can things move?

Mattek: Changing the culture of an organization is never easy. Some companies are very conservative, while others can make changes more quickly. We created a 15-year diversity vision and road map years ago. Our mix of people in IT is shifting, but it’s doing so gradually.

Q. What are your thoughts on hiring remote workers?

Mattek: Going virtual has made it possible to recruit talented people in other locations. That can increase diversity in your organization. But you also want to pay close attention to your onboarding experience and make that as smooth as possible.

Q. Any final thoughts?

Mattek: You need to look at all the different aspects of diversity, but you can’t tackle everything at once. Have a conversation with your leadership team about where you want to focus and get started. Once you do so, things will start to shift.

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