Despite increased visibility into STEM careers and the creation of countless STEM programs for girls in the past two decades, just 25 percent of computer and mathematical occupations are held by women—about the same percent as in 2001. So why aren’t we seeing the rise of women in data that we might expect following the uptick in visibility into the disparity? Oftentimes, companies and leaders can inadvertently create a culture that is not as inclusive as is necessary to see real change in the demographics of our data workforce.
If you’re wondering what you can do to change these stats, I’m glad you asked! It’s all about creating a more inclusive environment—because when our workplaces are truly inclusive and diverse, they naturally attract, include, and promote women, including those in STEM.
So, you want to be inclusive? Then it’s time to get intentional about it. When we make it a point to build diverse teams that include people from different races, religions, genders, backgrounds, interests, and geographies, our teams—and businesses—perform better.
To get to this place, corporate America first should challenge the idea that we only want to work with people we’ve worked with in the past, know, and like; the idea that people who look, act, or think like us are the best people to work with. We should instead look to create heterogenous groups that, rather than agreeing on everything, cultivate smart debate derived from differing perspectives.
A big thing I try to challenge myself on is how long I’ve worked with my teammates. While it’s great to build relationships with your colleagues and establish a stable flow, it’s also possible that long-standing teams can limit their success if they aren’t incorporating new team members from time to time. Is there a way to integrate new people, and thus new perspectives, into your team?
This all starts with having the mindset and understanding that great ideas can come from anyone. Often, the ideas you haven’t heard before come from people who think differently than you. Sometimes it’s not about thinking outside the box, but more about thinking outside your box. Once you’re intentional about building a team with different backgrounds, skillsets, and perspectives, you can have a solid foundation to begin implementing other inclusivity-driven initiatives in the office.
A big reason we often miss the mark on inclusion (or miss the mark in other areas, for that matter), is that we sometimes don’t look for options that aren’t right in front of us. We have to remember to check our blind spots. Of course, checking your own blind spots isn’t always easy… Have you ever noticed that someone in the passenger seat is often better at seeing cars approaching on their side than the driver is? Likewise, it may be easier for our colleagues to see what we’re missing than it is for us. When you’re on a diverse team, with a built-in range of perspectives and opinions, you’re often surrounded by people who will automatically notice things that, while in your blind spots, are right in front of them.
Internally, Deloitte has programs to help our leaders see not only what is not in front of them, but also what is directly in front of them that they may be making incorrect assumptions about. That’s right, we’re talking about unconscious bias. Highly inclusive leaders are keenly aware of their personal blind spots and use strategies to reduce unintended consequences. And the result can be powerful: better and inclusive business decisions, increased collaboration, innovation, and more effective working relationships.
So, check your blind spots, then check them again.
We read a lot about women in leadership mentoring more junior women to help them advance. That’s important. But, it’s also important to have men mentoring women and vice versa. I’m passionate about women having a variety of mentors, both men and women, which, you guessed it: builds on my belief in diverse teams and checking your blind spots. When you build a network of mentors who have similar experiences to you and see how they navigated them, as well as mentor who have completely different experiences and backgrounds, you build a network that gives you new perspectives.
Of course, mentors have as much to learn from their mentees as the other way around. When we create diverse mentor/mentee relationships, the mentor can learn a lot about their mentee’s perspective, and this is particularly important when that mentor is a leader in the company and can play a role in shaping its culture and inclusion.
In organizations where there may be a limited number of women in leadership positions, these women may be inundated with requests to mentor and support more junior professionals. While it may be easy to see these requests as burdensome, if they are viewed as opportunities to grow and develop these more junior professionals, it could lead to higher rates of advancement of women within the organization. This, in turn, can help move more women into leadership roles, and help create development opportunities for the more junior professionals that follow.
Tracy Ring, Vice President at Deloitte Consulting LLP, has been working around data, analytics, and robotic process automation for nearly 20 years. She launched Deloitte’s Women in Data initiative in 2018; sharing her passion for data and connecting more than 1,500 women in data science to collaborate and grow their careers. Tracy received her undergrad in Management Information Systems from Miami University in 2001 and graduated from Harvard Business School in 2015.