Dr. Anu Gokhale: Capture IT Talent with Inclusivity

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Workplace inclusivity means much more than just diversity: it means creating a connected workplace in which all members feel like they belong and their contributions are worthwhile and appreciated. In Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, closing the gender gap alone could add up to 15% of GDP to economies — which for some countries could be worth more than $6 trillion. Companies must make meaningful cultural change to foster inclusivity, and they need to eliminate unconscious bias not only in the hiring process but also in the workplace, as well as remove physical barriers to inclusivity.[1]

At SHARE Fort Worth (Feb. 23-28, 2020), Illinois State University Distinguished Professor Dr. Anu Gokhale’s session, Creative Strategies for Fostering an Inclusive Workplace, will help attendees identify talent gaps in the workplace and foster a more diverse and inclusive workforce. During her interactive presentation, attendees will break out into small groups and be given a specific workplace example to consider. After a brief discussion about possible solutions, each group will share their perspective on the scenario with the larger audience. Gokhale hopes that her breakout sessions will help attendees initiate conversations within their corporate units, develop concrete measures for recruiting and retaining more women and millennials, and formulate ways to incorporate those measures in an everyday work environment.

"There’s intense competition for talent, especially in IT. Companies that can appeal to and retain different kinds of workers are more likely to succeed.”

– Dr. Anu Gokhale

Key Job Satisfaction Motivators

As a principal investigator on multiple National Science Foundation-funded projects[2] focused on broadening participation in STEM and Computing (STEM+C), Gokhale reveals that a key to developing an inclusive and diverse workplace is to assess the motivators behind each group’s job satisfaction. Millennials tend to be most satisfied in jobs where they have flexibility, a sense of ownership over their work, and an ability to contribute to the community. She found that women also tend to be more satisfied in jobs where they have flexibility, but they prefer recognition for quality work, rather than a sense of ownership over that work.

Other differences uncovered are that millennials care less about meeting peers and others face-to-face, while women and minorities tend to enjoy interactions with other people. Companies need to learn to target not only academically qualified talent for their open jobs, but also specific pools of talent that are most interested in those types of jobs. For example, if the company has a job opening in coding that requires little face-to-face interaction, the company may want to consider targeting millennial talent for the job, while keeping in mind millennials’ desire for flexibility and job ownership. Job descriptions can be tailored to play up certain aspects of the job, including schedule flexibility or the need for frequent face-to-face interaction, to attract the best candidate, says Gokhale.

Unit-Based Inclusivity Strategies

Inclusivity does not necessarily have to begin with a top-down approach, according to Gokhale. Individual company units can act now to achieve a diverse and inclusive workplace. Online learning or support communities implemented at the unit level can enable workers to offer advice or comments on papers and projects, or to share tips and tricks about new IT systems or procedures to make the entire unit more effective. These communities are informal places where workers interact with one another in a non-competitive way.

“Traditionally, research has identified peer support groups where knowledge and experience are shared among coworkers as an efficient way to foster inclusivity. But these groups also offer emotional and social help to support continued growth of individual workers,” she explains. “In our project, we found that online learning communities are highly effective in generating more positive attitudes among women toward computer science, and these also bode well with the millennial generation. Plus, they are very cost-effective.” Gokhale adds, “It is critical that we implement organizational changes and ensure that the support structures are ongoing, accessible, and flexible, and create an atmosphere of trust among peers, as well as between workers and management.”

Another unit-based option is to offer monthly social gatherings or events in which workers can share and socialize. Gokhale says these gatherings should always involve food and beverages to keep the atmosphere informal. Inviting management to these gatherings is not mandatory, but could be an opportunity for management to engage with the workers, she says. Some units may consider an online event or gathering where workers can share their successes, leave comments, or ask questions. Some companies have tried using suggestion boxes where employees offer comments or questions, but Gokhale says that these are rarely utilized.

Acknowledge Implicit Bias, Foster Inclusivity

Gokhale also points out that workplace inclusivity discussions need to address and raise awareness about implicit bias. Humans developed stereotyping as a normal human heuristic, or shortcut, to help us process large amounts of data.[3] Implicit bias is an unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain social group, and these implicit stereotypes are shaped by experience and based on learned associations between particular qualities and social categories, including race and/or gender.[4]

Because the computing field is not as diverse as the population it serves, Gokhale notes that the sector needs to acknowledge implicit bias in the workforce. She says that it is critical to raise awareness of the fact that unconscious thought is a powerful instrument that can dictate our behavior and shape interactions; implicit biases (which do not always align with our declared beliefs) are pervasive and may cause unintended harm to others. However, implicit biases are mental constructs that can be unlearned, and she will incorporate some of those techniques during the session. Join her at SHARE Fort Worth for this presentation, part of the Women in IT track, to learn how identifying and countering implicit bias can foster workplace inclusivity and diversity.



[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/diversity-inclusion-gender-accessibility-workplace-culture/

[2] Projects include: PGE/DEM An Integrated Approach to Change Attitudes of College Freshmen Toward Female Participation In SME&T, BPC-DP: Using Learning Communities to Recruit Women and Minorities in Computing, and Illinois State University Initiates Teacher Education in Computer Science

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/drnancydoyle/2020/01/16/tackling-implicit-bias-does-the-woke-movie-business-have-an-inclusion-problem/#49df0849b22a

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicit_stereotype

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