Economic uncertainty is threatening to unravel tech companies' efforts to diversify their workforces as organizations tighten their belts and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs come under budgetary pressure.
More than six in 10 (62%) senior executives in a Wiley Edge Academy survey of 1,000 Gen Z professionals and over 300 senior tech executives acknowledged a slowdown in their DEI efforts due to the current economic environment.
"We hear of an impending recession every few months only to see it postponed," said Dennis Bonilla, Wiley Edge vice president and dean of the Wiley Edge Global Academy. "Unfortunately, DEI efforts are stuck in the crosshairs, according to this year's report."
From Bonilla's perspective, the current state of the economy presents an opportunity for companies to focus on building more diversified talent pipelines by recruiting graduates from a broad range of universities.
"More than 70% of the executives surveyed are still hiring exclusively, or are more likely to hire, from top-ranked institutions," he said. "Companies ought to be expanding talent pools and providing a more level playing field for entry-level roles to close their skills gaps and fill in-demand roles."
Majority of Gen Z Tech Pros Uncomfortable at Work
This year's report also found nearly 70% of Gen Z tech professionals have felt uncomfortable at work because of their identity — up nearly 20 points over last year, fueling challenges in retaining tech talent from historically underrepresented groups.
Contrast the rising number of uncomfortable Gen Z professionals with the fact that 86% of business leaders believe their DEI strategies are working well.
"There's clearly a disconnect between perception and impact that today's economic uncertainty is only exacerbating," Bonilla said.
Employers need to focus on creating inclusive workplaces that value the contributions of their employees, enhancing both retention and recruitment efforts in the process, he explained.
"Generation Z is the youngest and most ethnically diverse generation yet," Bonilla said, noting that it's estimated that Gen Z will make up 27% of the workforce by 2025.
He argues that employers must embrace inclusive workforce strategies and learning and development (L&D) programs that strengthen connection and provide ongoing opportunities for career advancement to attract and retain the next generation of tech talent.
"Organizations can explore a range of options to further their DEI efforts in today's economy," Bonilla added.
The Hire-Train-Deploy model allows companies to recruit graduates from diverse backgrounds for tech roles, removing the burden of competing for talent while controlling market costs, and this model also offers employers a level of predictability, particularly amid economic uncertainty.
"Reskilling and upskilling programs are cost-effective strategies that enhance retention by building pipelines of talent within your organization," Bonilla said. "In fact, 82% of businesses this year said skilling programs helped improve retention."
Widen Talent Pools by Focusing on Skills, Not Degrees
The Wiley Edge Academy survey also revealed that the biggest challenge facing companies when recruiting entry-level tech talent is finding candidates with the specific skills needed for a role.
Bonilla noted that companies that expand job qualifications in place of degree requirements are widening talent pools and reducing the barrier to entry for applicants who didn't have the opportunity to attend college.
"Candidates without degrees may have relevant work experience or shorter-term credentials that demonstrate skill proficiency," he said. "An expansion strategy that focuses more on skills verification could ultimately increase the diversity of qualified candidates for certain IT roles."
With the industry already struggling to recruit a diverse workforce, a recent Supreme Court ruling striking down affirmative action could make things worse.
Industry efforts meanwhile are underway to encourage young women to pursue degrees in technology, with CompTIA Spark offering TechGirlz workshops and camps to middle school girls to give them the opportunity to build skills in several tech fields.
Looming over the industry is an increasingly toxic workplace environment, which is leading tech professionals to consider quitting their jobs — a recent survey found IT workers believe leadership and senior management are mostly to blame for the noxious atmosphere.
About the authorNathan Eddy is a freelance writer for ITPro Today. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.