Rajkumari Neogy On Closing the Diversity Gap in STEM
CEO of iRestart and Disruptive Diversity Consultant
1. What do you do and what is your background in STEM?
I was born in start-ups and then I graduated to Adobe and then leveled up to Facebook, so I’ve spent about ten years of my career in the Silicon Valley.
I began in ethical consulting and training, learning and development for all of these tech companies up until Adobe. When I left and joined Facebook, I was invited to be part of their leadership and learning development team, then in my second year I was fortunate enough to be invited to take on a compliance and legal education role – which became the seminal foundation of their Unconscious Bias Training available online now, so I am very proud of that.
2. Why do you believe in supporting diverse STEM talent?
This is another version of segregation that we’re currently experiencing in the sector and it’s something that we need to address; it’s a path that we have crafted that results in a lot of exclusion. What we’re noticing now is all of these unicorns are bubbling to the surface and imploding, and I think the root cause of this is because we have not been able to weave in 50% of our population. We haven’t been able to invite them into the world of the tech industry.
There are so many studies on gender equity and performance increases, and how that impacts the bottom line of a company. We need to be able to communicate this in a way that everyone can hear and understand. We need to create an environment of inclusion that’s not just simply talking about diversity – it’s really about asking: How do we create paths of inclusion for everyone? How do we address strategies in order to meet specific needs? And, how do we go about strategically incorporating applicable schools of thought that generate and invite inclusion?
Fundamentally the very core question is: How do we get everyone to meet this creative environment of inclusion?
3. What is the biggest challenge in achieving STEM diversity?
Communicating and relaying the above message. Talking about inclusion in a way that other people can compute and act on is key.
We need to ask how we can change our language so that we’re creating an environment in which everyone can participate. It’s a challenge; you have to begin to look and assess things differently so that you can create a different experience.
4. What inclusive hiring strategies do you see as key for closing the STEM diversity gap?
This is interesting, and it’s difficult to answer. Everyone will answer this differently based on their biases and different perceptions. It all comes down to culture fit; I think strategies aren’t a one-size fits all thing – you need to consider culture, the values that are the tenants of this culture and how you go about actually evaluating candidates based on these tenants.
The Harvard Business Review talks about 360-degree surveys and how they’re useless because they track behaviors and you need to track feelings – firstly, it’s awesome that HBR are promoting this! Secondly, we can use this to figure out how to assess candidates and then leverage that assessment and let it overlap onto our values.
5. What is your advice to diverse talent looking to join or progress within the STEM sector?
I’ve actually done something very unique relating to this with a company we’ve been working with for eight weeks; there are about 30 people in the company, nine of whom make up the senior team that I’m coaching one-on-one. What I chose to do was open up physical office hours where they can anonymously call in and talk about problems they’re having in the workplace.
The aim of this is to help people with communication; and the three key concerns I’ve been picking up on over the last few weeks have been the following:
- Communication and how to deal with conflict
- Conversations on how to grow a career
- Self-reflective issues
The first two are the most prominent. When it comes to communication and growing careers, ultimately you need to invest in and craft mentorship programs that are enabling in a way that’s different – the conversations need to be strategic, rather than tactful. We need these levels of mentoring dialogues to create a network that allows candidates and talent to find resources and learn from them.