Gender diversity training programs have become almost as common as Ping-Pong tables and free snacks at tech offices.
A recent report from AnitaB.org, formerly known as the Anita Borg Institute, found that 8 in 10 tech companies offer formal gender diversity training programs, a number that's been increasing steadily upward for the last three years. Amid the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, companies are facing a rising wave of criticism from investors, employees and the public to address the issue. Plus, now that the talent war is so fierce, companies are prioritizing this issue. They want to cast a wide net so they can attract employees of all backgrounds. They can no longer afford to keep a culture that isn't all inclusive.
The trend toward more training belies a growing body of research showing that such programs often don't work. Still, tech companies and experts say there are benefits to diversity training, and robust programs that compliment other diversity and inclusion initiatives can truly benefit a company.
At the same time, companies realize they have to move the needle and spark change. Statistics tell the story. Companies are less likely to hire women than men for entry-level jobs, even though women are more likely to hold a college degree. The disparities continue as they move through their careers. For every 100 men promoted to a manager role, only 79 women are promoted, according to research by McKinsey and LeanIn.org. If companies continue to promote and hire at current levels, the number of women in management would increase by only 1 percent over the next 10 years.
"You need a systemic, sustainable approach," says Sara Taylor, president and founder of deepSEE Consulting, which provides diversity and inclusion training for organizations. "Check-the-box training is not going to make a difference."
For this to work, the corporate culture has to be one that is committed to inclusion, according to Diane Gherson, senior vice president of human resources at IBM. As she explains, IBM chair, CEO and president Ginni Rometty "is leading a movement to develop a diverse workforce worldwide." This year the CEO instituted worldwide inclusion standards requiring all of the company's 350,000 employees to adhere to.
On the gender front, Gherson notes that there are now 50,000 female engineers in the IBM workforce.
Moving the needle is not easy, but crucial. Nearly half of millennials want to work at diverse companies, a 2017 research report by the Institute for Public Relations revealed. But efforts to boost diversity at organizations have been slow at best. Women still hold fewer than a third of all tech jobs, reports PayScale.
Once in tech jobs, women are less likely than men to be promoted and more likely to switch industries. Gender diversity training is aimed at stanching those losses, with specific programming intended to help all workers understand the value of gender diversity and reduce the barriers to gender-inclusive teams. The training itself can take myriad forms, from one-time online training sessions to ongoing, more holistic programs. As they attempt to make their training more effective, tech companies are increasingly moving toward the latter.