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HR’s role in building diversity with more women in tech

Women have long fought for a place at the technology table. As the tech talent gap expands, HR leaders have the means to build a business case for greater inclusion.

HR’s role in building diversity with more women in tech

As thousands of attendees gather this week in Las Vegas for this year’s HR Technology Conference & Expo, early morning participants were treated to an informative and timely presentation by Rita Mitjans, Chief Diversity & Social Responsibility Officer at ADP, as part of Tuesday’s Women in HR Tech track.

Mitjans delivered a passionate keynote, The Business Case for Diversity, that drove home a timely message for today’s HR leaders: diversity isn’t the right thing to do—it’s the smart thing to do.

While diversity is important across the organization, it’s especially relevant in tech hiring. By 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the software industry to grow by 26%, faster than any other part of the economy. And while women represent almost half of the U.S. workforce, they currently fill just a quarter of STEM jobs.

“We need women in these jobs,” says Mitjans. As those jobs must be filled sooner than later, diversity has become front and center to the issue of solving the growing gap in tech recruitment.

In Tuesday’s session, Mitjans joined top women in HR in an honest and unflinching discussion about the challenges the tech industry continues to face in creating greater inclusion and diversity in today’s workforce. The conversation resulted in some key takeaways about how HR professionals can affect positive change in this area.

1. Improve the candidate and employee experience for women 
While HR executives are limited in their ability to attract young women and girls to STEM academically, they can position STEM careers to be more attractive to women, both as candidates and employees.

It begins, says Mitjans, with the hiring process. “Create diverse interview panels for one. If you only have candidates meet with men, you’re subtly sending a message that, ‘there may not be a lot of you here or left at the end of the day.’”

She also emphasizes the need for awareness around the subtle workplace inequities that can make women feel unwelcome in the male-dominated tech industry, referring to these as “micro-inequities.”

Mitjans cited a startling statistic. “80% of women leave STEM jobs because of things like a lack of advancement, poor working conditions, and feeling like they’re the only ones. You can change that.”

These micro-inequities happen every day, admits Mitjans. Collectively, they create irreparable damage to inclusion and are often the reason why women leave the tech field, prompting them to ask themselves: Am I welcome here? Do I fit in technology?

These micro-inequities can be addressed by asking some basic questions: Are women “leading” your teams or are they perennially “part” of them? Where do the women sit–on the side of the room or at the table?

The good news, says Mitjans, is that “every HR professional has the ability to impact these outcomes.”

2. Convince leadership that diversity is good for business  
While  HR can’t solve all of the world’s diversity problems, Mitjans points out that “the only way to affect diversity is to engage business leaders. It has to become part of your operating practices.”

“If you have to start somewhere, a business case is a great place,” adds Josie Sutcliffe, VP of Marketing at Visier.

“Put it in the context of preparing for the workforce of the future,” says Sutcliffe. “We’re looking at a shrinking workforce over the next 10 years. If we aren’t taking heroic steps to make sure we’re doing what it takes to attract and retain women, we won’t hit our objectives and there will be a crisis point.”

The fact is that diversity and inclusion can enable companies to be more competitive and more sustainable; HR leaders must demonstrate those benefits to senior management.

To make that case, speak the language of your CEO to get them on board. “It is so important for CEOs to talk about diversity with leaders and employees of the company,” adds Patricia Milligan, Global Leader of the When Women Thrive initiative at Mercer. “It needs to be part of the expectation of being a leader in your company.”

In other words, strive to integrate diversity into the business outcomes that your leadership cares about most.

To get the attention of top decision makers, Sutcliffe recommends measuring what gender equity looks like in your organization and your team.” “The tone is set from the top down. Your leadership team needs to get other leaders to care about diversity and inclusion.”

3. If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it
One theme that echoed throughout the Women in HR Tech track was the need for analytics to prove the case for greater diversity within the organization.

Start by taking the pulse of your organization’s commitment to diversity, suggests Stephanie Lampkin, Founder & CEO Blendoor, which generates metrics that demonstrate the ROI of diversity & inclusion initiatives.

“We do a comprehensive equity audit for companies we work with, starting with a basic question: What does gender equality look like across your senior management and what are you doing to change that?”

Overall, participants agreed that while data can shed light on diversity inequities, at the end of the day, what matters most is accountability.

“Accountability has to be authentic,” Milligan says. “We need leadership models that say if you can’t build a diverse workforce, you don’t belong in my company.”

And what will be the force behind that change? According to this group of HR professionals, it starts with an ongoing commitment from HR leaders to make diversity a reality in their organizations.