Why D&I is key to better infrastructure and operations teams

Why D&I is key to better infrastructure and operations teams

Infrastructure and operations technology needs to be less brittle and more agile, and diversity, equity and inclusion can help.

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“Why should an I&O leader care about diversity and inclusion [D&I]? Why do you need to be involved in this at all? What good will it do you?"

The answer to these questions, according to Debra Logan, a vice president and Gartner fellow, is about building better infrastructure and operations (I&O) teams.

"I’m not asking you to have faith," she said. "I’m not asking you to do it for non-business reasons. I’m not asking you to do it because someone else told you, or because you feel it’s the right thing to do. I want you to do it because it will solve the problems that keep you up at night.”

Speaking at the recent Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations & Cloud Strategies Conference, she said creating diverse and inclusive teams can lead to a workforce that’s more productive, more agile, more resilient and better suited to take on the digital transformation that’s being asked of I&O than a homogenous team would be.

The need for agility and resilience is a common theme in IT. For I&O teams, agile tech initiatives include just-in-time infrastructure, more integrated management and monitoring tools, and composable systems (a few of Gartner’s top trends impacting I&O in 2022).

Meanwhile, the three biggest challenges facing I&O teams, according to Gartner survey respondents, are insufficient skills and resources, technical debt and facilitating culture change.

“You have quite a few challenges, including attracting and retaining talent, driving innovation, and changing the culture of I&O. These problems are complicated and they’re pervasive,” Logan said.

There’s no one simple solution to these challenges, but prioritising diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is key to making headway.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion programs can help you address some of the most important issues—talent shortages, innovation bottlenecks, and change resistance. Along the way, you can acquire new career-boosting skills and become resilient and adaptive to create the I&O teams that you need for the future,” Logan said.

IT’s diversity problem

IT has a reputation for a lack of diversity, and Logan shared some statistics.

In 1984, 37 per cent of graduates who received a technology or data-related degree were women. By 2018, that number had dropped to 19 per cent. By comparison, nearly 50 per cent of medical students and law students are women, Logan said.

“Gender balance in IT got worse and worse, while overall employment in ICT—information and communication technology—exploded,” Logan said.

Many minority groups, too, remain underrepresented in IT. The numbers are more complicated; minority populations of some kinds are underrepresented, but others are not. “It’s very much dependent on geography,” Logan said.

Specific to I&O, the numbers show the lack of gender diversity is pervasive.

“Right now, 86 per cent of your I&O colleagues are men… and 80 per cent of your colleagues are over the age of 45,” Logan said. “In an industry and profession that has a reputation for a lack of diversity, I&O actually stands out as worse than average,” Logan said. “You work in a monoculture,”

The disadvantages of monoculture farming—growing only one kind of crop—include greater susceptibility to pests, diseases, and weather disruptions, and there are parallels in IT. “The problems with monocultures are that they are not adaptive, and they are not resilient. In other words, monocultures are fragile,” Logan said.

That needs to change for I&O to be able adapt to unpredictable and changing conditions, Logan said. “You must become resilient enough to weather the actual and metaphysical storms of the modern world.”

Top three challenges for I&O teams

Skill shortages continue to escalate across all of IT. Today, 40 per cent of people in tech-related professions are looking for jobs, and they have plenty of options, Logan said.

“If you continue to look where you’ve always looked for talent—the same profiles and the same job descriptions that you’ve always had, using the same processes—nothing is going to change. In fact, you’re going to lose ground,” Logan said. “You’re going to have a lot of unfulfilled positions.”

Recruiting and retention—the number one problem for I&O teams, according to Gartner’s data—stands to benefit from DEI, Logan said.

In a PwC study, CEOs worldwide reported that a diverse and inclusive organisation improved their retention rate by 18 per cent. Ninety per cent of CEOs said that DEI programs help them to attract top talent, 85 per cent said that they enhanced business performance, and 78 per cent reported an improvement in innovation measures and new offerings.

The struggle to manage technical debt – another of the three biggest challenges facing I&O teams – also will suffer under a homogeneous workforce. The burden of legacy infrastructure impacts not only future IT investments but also workforce development.

“I&O leaders must reduce technical debt to free up resources for innovation,” Logan said. “Technical debt does not allow cultural agility. It’s like an anchor to hold you in place. Technical debt, and driving innovation and change, are inversely related.”

Lastly, the third top challenge for I&O leaders – facilitating culture change – can benefit from a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

“Culture change requires different ideas and different behaviors… DEI programs are one of the best ways to change culture,” Logan said. “We have 20 years of data that shows a positive correlation between various kinds of diversity – gender balance, ethnicity, thought, ability, disability – and superior business and IT performance.”

How to practice diversity, equity and inclusion

Logan shared a number of mindsets and behaviour shifts that I&O leaders can adopt to facilitate DEI.

It starts with learning the language of DEI and acknowledging the sensitivity of the topic, which makes using the right vocabulary even more important.

“Participating in the DEI conversation requires a common understanding of the DEI language. I had to learn it all, and I’m still learning,” Logan said. “You can learn it, too, and take your first steps to having the safe and civilised conversations that are going to make this work.”

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