Workforce diversity puzzle not easy for IT execs to piece together

Companies look for ways to attract more women and African-Americans to take tech jobs

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A shrinking pool of entry-level IT workers and the difficulty of finding business-savvy technology professionals are two of the more highly publicized pain points faced by CIOs as they try to build up their staffs. But another big challenge for IT leaders is establishing more-diverse IT teams.

For instance, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) said in a report issued in 2005 (download PDF) that the percentage of women in the U.S. IT workforce fell from 41% in 1996 to 32.4% in 2004. The ITAA said that the representation of African-Americans in IT also dropped during those years, from 9.1% of the workforce in 1996 to 8.3% in 2004.

The diversity issue is a multifaceted problem for CIOs and other high-level IT managers, according to Kristen Lamoreaux, a senior director at Jarvis Walker Group, an IT executive recruiting firm in Florham Park, N.J. Lamoreaux also is the founder of SIM Women, a networking group for female members of the Society for Information Management.

During a panel discussion on IT hiring issues at Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference in Orlando last week, Lamoreaux said that women with families often require flexible work schedules. But, she added, some employers fear that if they make special accommodations to meet the needs of working mothers, others in the IT department will expect the same kind of consideration.

Nonetheless, if work/life balance issues aren't a concern among IT supervisors, "there's a deeper problem" within the culture of their organizations, Lamoreaux said.

She and other panelists said that one way to encourage more women to work in IT is to get girls interested in technology when they're young. For instance, Cora Carmody, CIO at Science Applications International Corp., helps run a Technology Goddesses program featuring workshops and a day camp for Girl Scouts in San Diego. The campers include 6-year-olds "who are doing things with PowerPoint that some IT executives can't do," Carmody said.

But she added that the real mission of the day camp is to enlighten girls at an early age about career opportunities in the IT field. "Targeting them in high school is too late," Carmody said.

Meanwhile, the panelists said that the lack of African-American IT workers in the U.S. labor pool has made it particularly difficult for CIOs and IT hiring managers to recruit and groom them for higher-level positions.

Their take is borne out by data from Information Technology Senior Management Forum Inc. (ITSMF), an organization based in Batavia, Ill., that offers career development, mentoring and networking programs for African-Americans looking to move into IT management positions. According to the ITSMF, fewer than 3% of senior IT managers are African-American — a figure that is consistent with the demographics of Computerworld's 2007 salary survey, in which just 3% of the respondents said that they were African-American.

DeAndre Hodo, global director of IT infrastructure and operations at Littelfuse Inc. in Des Plaines, Ill., said that about 60% of his staff comprises African-Americans. But the company's application development group is predominantly split between Caucasian and Indian programmers, Hodo said.

That is one of the reasons why Hodo advocates for the creation of more youth-oriented technology programs that can give participants a picture of the broad base of IT opportunities available to minorities. "Telling my teenage daughter there is a career path in IT falls on deaf ears," he noted.

Michael Hiliger, vice president of information management for North America at Xerox Corp., said that about half the members of his leadership team are women. But Hiliger, who oversees more than 1,300 full-time staffers and contract workers, acknowledged that he's struggling to find and place African-Americans in IT management positions.

He added that he and other IT executives at Xerox are trying to increase the company's head count of African-American workers in part through mentoring and other career-development programs.

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