The CIO’s role in DEI
Jason Conyard (he/him) knows the value of creating an inclusive workplace: both as CIO of VMware and as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Like many others, Conyard guarded his identity at work but found his career take off once he came out at the office. “My career changed. It had been in the doldrums for a while because I was constantly investing energy in filtering myself. But when I stopped doing that, I could really reach my full potential,” he says.
As an executive, he says he now owes it to both his company and others to ensure all workers can feel included so they can excel.
“When you create an environment where they can be themselves, and fully be themselves, they come alive and they can reach their full potential, too,” Conyard explains.
Advocates say other enterprise executives should follow Conyard’s example and work to create a truly diverse and inclusive workplace, noting that CIOs have an opportunity to lead these efforts.
IT insiders explain that CIOs and their teams are positioned to promote universal design principals — creating, for example, data input fields that say “partner/spouse” instead of “husband/wife.” IT teams are also positioned to establish data policies that safeguard sexual and gender identities while enabling individuals to be known exactly as they chose to identify.
“As an LGBTQ+ person and researcher and presenter who works with CIOs, it’s refreshing to see changes happening and CIOs learning about DEI, working to achieve equity, and helping people to become more connected,” says LJ Justice (they/them), a research principal with Gartner. “But what we’ve been hearing from CIOs and IT leaders is that they know they’re still falling short and they want to identify how they can do better.”
Justice and others say CIOs who want to do better have strong incentives to do so, as an inclusive workplace is both ethical and enterprising, with studies consistently showing that organisations with diverse teams outperform their peers.
“The CIO is working to connect both internally and externally with customers, and those customers are from a diverse base. It’s your job to think about anyone who may use your service or your product. And if you’re not, you’re losing out on a portion of people,” Wood says.
Experts say CIOs who build diverse teams do so by making it a priority and taking actions that create a culture where everyone can show up and be their full authentic selves.
They include the pronouns they use to identify themselves — a signal to others that they accept and invite others to do the same. “That demonstrates allyship,” Justice says, adding that displaying the rainbow flag and other Pride symbols does the same.
And they get to know their staffers on a personal level through office hours when workers can visit and talk. “It cultivates trust,” Justice explains.
Such CIOs also look at how they run their departments, evaluating everything from recruiting practices to promotion tracks to ensure they’re fair to everyone. “They ask themselves the hard questions: Do I have biases going into hiring, promotion, and compensation? Am I running inclusive meetings? Am I doing the work to learn and build empathy?” Epler says.
Masure, who also works as a DEI consultant, says CIOs should look for new hires who aren’t the “right fit” but rather a “value add” to ensure they’re creating teams that reflect a diverse society and can deliver systems that work for everyone.
CIOs and their C-suite colleagues should also take more than symbolic or one-time actions and instead commit to ongoing diversity efforts, and measure and report their progress.
“There’s a level of authenticity needed here. It can’t just be a Pride banner in June, and it can’t be a side project. Diversity is important year round and it needs to be backed up by resources,” Gutierrez says.