Utah Tech Firms Seek to Diversify a Not-So-Diverse Region

Although technology employers in the Salt Lake City region take diversity seriously, they face a particular challenge: Utah’s population isn’t all that diverse, meaning the local talent pool isn’t, either. “There’s not a ton of racial diversity in the region, in general,” said an executive of one area tech company who asked not to be identified. “It’s not a matter of the tech workforce, it’s the entire population.”

The numbers bear him out. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Utah County—which includes the Salt Lake City, Provo, and Orem metropolitan regions and is the state’s most populous area—was 89 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 0.5 percent Black.

“In a state with a population of 3 million, finding and hiring a diverse set of qualified, talented professionals often means we have to broaden our search and hire from other locations, bringing more people to the state,” said Jeff Weber, vice president of people and places for Instructure, a learning-software developer in Salt Lake City. In addition, he said, “we’re investing in the candidates of tomorrow by promoting tech in our local schools and hosting coding camps and other initiatives that promote tech to school-aged learners—our future workforce.”

“Utah is also in the midst of a talent shortage, especially in top management positions, so employers are seeking to hire employees from outside the state out of necessity as well as a desire to increase diversity,” added Meg Walter, director of programs and marketing for the area tech group Silicon Slopes.

Aggressively Seeking Gender Parity

Since 50 percent of the area’s population is female, the most talked-about diversity efforts center on ensuring women in tech are given the same opportunities as men. According to local television station KSL, the region’s women earn only 70 percent of the wages paid to similarly qualified men. They’re also underrepresented in STEM-related jobs and management positions.

Earlier this year, Cyndi Tetro, executive director of Utah’s Women Tech Council, told her organization’s Talent Innovation Summit that the local tech businesses must become more diverse if they’re going to survive. As companies compete for top talent, the need to recruit “on a pure, talent-first basis” not only creates the best teams, she said, it generates “an employee base that is naturally balanced and diverse.”

Cathy Donahoe, vice president of HR for data-software provider Domo, headquartered in the Utah town of American Fork, agreed. “We are freakishly committed to hiring the best person for the job,” she told those gathered at that conference. “And when you do that, diversity will happen.”

Once you’ve hired the right talent, you have to keep it. To retain the women it recruits, Donahoe said Domo offers equitable pay, flexible schedules and paid time off to help accommodate maternity leave. A number of other companies pursue similar tactics, according to KSL: At Adobe, women’s pay levels are “on par” with that of men, and women must be included in the recruitment pipeline for every open position. Provo-based photo-book producer Chatbooks employs a number of women who work from home, mostly stay-at-home mothers. (Chatbooks says 70 percent of its workforce is female.)

A Commitment (and Slow Progress) on Racial Diversity

Recruiting racially diverse candidates to Utah is a tougher proposition, employers suggest. “Being in HR, I ask experts and other HR folks out of state what they’d do for Utah. An African-American woman from D.C. told me to make the geography more black-friendly and that Colorado hosts an unofficial black ski weekend,” said our anonymous executive. “It’s really hard for a company to assume responsibility for transforming the racial diversity of a region.”

That hasn’t stopped tech companies from using multiple channels to identify and court diverse candidates from other areas. The executive’s company “assigns a recruiter to source a more diverse candidate pool for specific positions,” he said. “Since they’re getting mostly white applications, the recruiter [uses social media] to find female executives or non-white folks and tries to get them to apply.” The approach has shown promising results, resulting in at least one senior-level hire.

As with tech employers in other regions, Utah companies believe increasing their diversity is a business necessity. “We can build a better long-term, sustainable business by creating a culture that supports and encourages diversity of ideas, backgrounds and experiences. We know that the more diverse we are, the more diverse our ideas will be,” said Weber.

To that end, Instructure has revamped its recruiting process to attract more diverse candidates and regularly reaches out to organizations that can help increase the diversity of its talent pool. Weber said the company reviews salaries annually to make sure all employees are compensated fairly based on level and job, and has committed itself to transparency. “We’ve openly discussed our diversity and inclusion initiatives and we continue to talk openly with the community about our intent to make Instructure a great place to work for everyone,” he said.

Despite their demographic challenge, Utah’s tech leaders tend to be optimistic. For one thing, “many people want to be part of the solution,” the unnamed HR leader said.

Weber sees Instructure making progress, though he also suggests “it will take time for our initiatives to have a real impact.” Still, he believes, “as other companies in Salt Lake demonstrate the same commitment, we are helping to build out a more supportive and diverse community.”

3 Responses to “Utah Tech Firms Seek to Diversify a Not-So-Diverse Region”

  1. I am a diverse candidate and I applied for a ton of jobs with many leading tech companies in Silicon Slopes – UT (maybe 20 or more) and it surprisingly took me much longer to get hired even though I have 8 years of software implementation experience. I eventually took another senior tech role outside UT. It’s not that there isn’t diversity per say, but even those hiring aren’t diverse. Have a diverse HR workforce. Diversity ought to attract diversity. And HR and recruiting departments ought to work harder to hire a diverse workforce. Even if a diverse candidate doesn’t check off on all points on a hiring worksheet, bring them in for a face to face interview and speak with them. Intentionally reach out to more diverse candidates on LinkedIn.