How to Develop the Living

No Zombies on StaffThis is the last of a series of four posts based on my interview for the Conscious Software Development Telesummit, conducted by Michael Smith, The Zombie Apocalypse is Not an HR Product: How to Recruit, Hire, Retain, and Develop the Living.

You can outsource or bring in a contractor if you need some technical skill for some specified period of time. But if you hire permanent, regular employees, you should be prepared to develop them, as individual contributors, as team members, and as future leaders.

Why is diversity so important?

Straight, white men are now the minority in the workforce, except in the IT department. The U.S. is rapidly becoming a nation with no clear ethnic majority. To get the best, we have to attract women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community, and then we have to make them feel unexceptional. It’s not just about eliminating the negative. People need to fit in, or they won’t stay!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women hold just over 51% of the management, professional, and related positions in the U.S. Additionally, over 55% of all mothers with children under the age of one are in the work force. The most effective strategy for retaining working mothers is not to compete with their children for their loyalty! Employers need a strategy to support new mothers, including a place for them to nurse or pump milk. Telling mothers to use the rest rooms is not only insensitive, it’s potentially a health problem; some cities now prohibit the practice. Employers who demonstrate that they respect nursing mothers will stand a better chance of keeping them.

People of color make up over a third of the workforce. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 9% of technology jobs are held by black workers. And the National Center for Women & Information Technology says that black women hold only 3% of the IT jobs. Groups like Black Girls Code are working to get more young people of color interested in technology, and as they succeed, we’ll see a lot more of them applying for IT jobs. But there aren’t enough role models in IT jobs today for them to “just discover” each other. Employers who have a strategy for mentoring these new hires as twenty-somethings will stand a better chance of making them highly productive, and still have them on board when they’re ready for management positions.

Statistics from the Williams Institute show that gay and transgender workers make up over 6% of the workforce, but it’s difficult to confirm that with data from the federal government. However, it’s clear that the percentage is higher in white collar-work, and especially in technology. Google has created an employee resource group, the Gayglers, for LGBT Googlers and their allies. Effective strategies take into account the notion that you don’t have to be one to stand with them. You can’t be inclusive by setting people apart.

The most effective culture is inclusive, collaborative, and supportive. It’s not enough to send managers an Email on this stuff. It has to be part of management training, and it has to be part of their scorecard. Leaders lead by example, whether they mean to or not. Sensitizing managers and other workers to what people find to be insulting or insensitive takes time and commitment. Diversity will someday be so natural as to be unremarkable, but we’re not there yet. We need to work at it.

Why is training so important?

Traditionally, employers have paid the cost of their employee’s training. Lately, it seems we only want to hire the trained and experienced. For sustainable operations, we need an entry level and a mid-level. To retain the ambitious or intellectually adventurous, we have to give them new challenges.

Identify the people who have an interest in management and groom them for it. It’s not for everyone – be sure you have a track for people who don’t want to be managers! But for those who seek an office in the C-Suite, we have to build the skills needed for management and the executive ranks, including business acumen, strategic acumen, and financial acumen. Don’t just say you prefer MBA’s for the leadership team; set out some specific guidelines, and opportunities for those with executive ambitions to acquire and apply those key skills.

The key is to treat training like an investment, because that’s what it is. You are reducing your staffing costs by making the people you have more valuable, and reducing their incentive to move on. The best places to work aren’t just about good pay and plenty of parking. They earn their reputation by taking a mindful approach to hiring, developing, and retaining the people who make them successful.


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About Dave Gordon

Dave Gordon is a project manager with over twenty five years of experience in implementing human capital management and payroll systems, including SaaS solutions like Workday and premises-based ERP solutions like PeopleSoft and ADP Enterprise. He has an MS in IT with a concentration in project management, and a BS in Business. In addition to his articles and blog posts, he curates a weekly roundup of articles on project management, and he has authored or contributed to several books on project management.