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Diversifying the IT department

Businesses strive to incorporate minorities into the workforce.

By Linda Leung, Network World
October 24, 2005 12:02 AM ET

Network World - During the holiday season, a big Christmas tree is displayed at the Prospect Heights, Ill., headquarters of HSBC North America. But the tree isn't the only symbol of celebration featured in the atrium of the financial services company's main office; a Hanukkah candle and a presentation honoring the celebration of Kwanzaa also are on view. This is one of the many ways that HSBC reinforces its culturally diverse workforce, where 17.4% of managers at its 3,400-employee IT department are ethnic minorities.

It appears that HSBC is bucking the trend. According to a study released in June by the Information Technology Association of America, women and most racial minorities are significantly under represented in today's U.S. IT workforce. The percentage of women in the IT workforce has declined by 18.5% since 1996 to 32.4% in 2004. (At HSBC, 27% of IT management are female.)

The report also says that the percentage of African-Americans in the IT workplace has declined to 8.3% in 2004 from 9.1% in 1996, while the percentage of Hispanics in the IT workforce rose from 6.4% in 1996 to 12.9% in 2004.

Despite these figures, HSBC is one of many companies that are actively encouraging a diverse workforce. "Major banks and retailers know that their customer base is diverse and they want their workforce to look like their customers and to be able to relate to them," says Bev Lieberman, president at IT search firm Halbrecht Lieberman Associates.

Of Scripps' 57 IT employees, 25 are women and six are ethnic minorities. Of its 13 IT workers who are managers, five are female and one is an ethnic minority. Johnson says the company wants to improve on those figures as positions open up, but "it has been a challenge because we are located in Knoxville [Tenn.]; more so than if we were located in New York or Los Angeles where there is a naturally broader profile" of diverse potential candidates.

To improve its potential to attract a diverse workforce, Scripps hired Lenore Washington-Graham, an African-American woman, as vice president of strategic resourcing, a unit of human resources spearheading the diversity drive. She flies the Scripps flag at conventions aimed at Hispanics and African-Americans with a master's of business administration (MBA), while HR places job advertisements on minority Web sites.

"There are certain types of IT jobs where it is easier than others to hire minorities, such as in desktop support and help desk, but as you go up the skills ladder, it gets more difficult," Johnson says.

To help widen the candidate pool, Scripps will relocate minority candidates for below-director-level jobs.

Unlike Scripps, HSBC does not relocate new recruits, and so at its 28 remote IT units in less ethnically diverse areas, such as in Buffalo, N.Y., the IT teams reflect their surrounding areas, says Mike Woodward, vice president of HR in HSBC's IT services department. "But we do proactive things like fund the HSBC Chicago chapter of the Black Data Processing Associates , and employees attend local meetings," he says. HSBC hiring managers also are actively involved with the National Black MBA Association, National Society of Hispanic MBAs and Inroads, a non-profit that trains and develops minority youths.

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