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The Power of Diversity

In the field of IT, diversity works for everyone

By Molly Joss

You may have heard about universities getting into legal trouble for using racial and gender quotas to help decide who gets admitted into their schools. The courts have ruled (for the most part) that schools should not use these kinds of quotas in their admission strategies.

Such legal judgments might make you think that the corporate world is avoiding diversity mandates as well. However, striving for diversity in the workplace is not the same thing as diversity quotas in college admissions. In fact, many companies have overt and public plans for building a diverse workforce by reaching out to women, minorities, and people with physical and mental handicaps. Such strategies and practices are legal and in some situations the government encourages and even mandates such diversity.

As you're planning your IT career, diversity in the workplace is something you should keep in mind and use to your advantage-even if you're part of the majority. And remember, in our increasingly diverse American culture, those of you who are in the majority today, might just be in the minority tomorrow.

Why Do Companies Want a Diverse Workforce?

Major multinational companies top the list of organizations with formal human resource policies that specify diversity as a corporate goal. But they're not the only ones that value diversity within their ranks. Medium and even small companies are realizing that diversity helps them in numerous ways. Companies value diversity for a variety of reasons:


  • They want to dip into the largest pool of talent possible. Companies want the best combination of skills they can get, and they have decided that the "wrapper" the skills are packaged in does not matter.

  • They value a variety of viewpoints. You can debate all day and night whether women think differently from men and the reasons behind those differences, but companies want results-not debates. Companies strive for a mix of different opinions and experiences, and diversity among employees is the best way to achieve that mixture.

  • Diversity is part of the organization's mission. It's not just nonprofits that have a highly developed social conscience-some for-profit companies do as well.

  • The company has a multinational or international presence. Diversity isn't just about race and gender-it's a mix of cultural background, ethnicity, religion, life experience and more. Having a diverse workforce is a real plus for companies that serve more than one region, country or area of the world.

  • They want to qualify for government contracts. Federal, state and local government contracts can require that suppliers and vendors maintain a diverse workforce. Companies that wish to do business with government entities must comply with these regulations to be considered for ongoing or new contracts.

Use Diversity to Your Advantage

When you are looking for an IT job either while in school or after you graduate, you should look for signs that a potential employer is committed to diversity in the workplace. You will find-no matter what your gender or ethnicity-that such companies are usually more committed to employee satisfaction and staff development than companies that do not make diversity a priority.

To find out if a company has an interest in diversity, you can always take the direct route and ask questions about it during initial interviews. You can also look for indications of this in the company's literature. You may find a clear written statement of a commitment to diversity on the company's Web site or in their printed corporate literature. You might see more subtle signs such as photographs of men and women of various ethnicities in public literature or in recruitment materials. And remember, if a company has a number of government contracts, they will be working hard to build and keep a diverse workforce.

If you attend a minority-serving college or university, or one that has a significant minority student body, make sure to attend any job fairs that the school sponsors. Major IT companies such as Sun Microsystems and Honeywell routinely visit these job fairs. You can also sign up with a minority or specialty IT recruiting firm-even if you are still in college or are looking for your first job after graduation.

Spend time visiting Web sites that serve particular diversity groups even if you don't feel you "match" the criteria; such sites are open to everyone. Sign up for the sites' email mailing lists and hang out in chat rooms where you'll find advance notice of job openings and people to talk with about your professional ambitions. This is easy and invaluable way to do career research.

Learn More

Trade associations that serve the IT industry are a great place to find specialty recruiting firms, job fairs and even mentors.

For example, the American Society of Mechanical Engineer's Web site (www.asme.org/jobs) has a career center with lots of information for students seeking IT internships and recent graduates seeking IT-related jobs.

The site also has a lot of information about workplace diversity for association members. Even though you are not an employer, reading through the information will give you valuable insights into the reasons why companies value diversity and how they go about fostering it in their own companies.

Molly Joss is an IT veteran who writes about career and job issues, among other topics of note.

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