Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
April 28, 2017

Shortage of Diverse Talent? Build Your Own Pipeline.

By Fleur Segal, Liam Hurley

Despite having the best of intentions, many companies struggle to improve diversity among their ranks. Spencer Stuart and Akamai Technologies hosted more than 50 senior HR executives for a discussion on promoting diversity in the workplace and what other organizations can learn from the tech company’s unique solution.

Like many technology companies, Akamai faced challenges in recruiting diverse talent. “The vast majority of STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] alumni are men,” explained Anthony Williams, Akamai’s vice president of global talent acquisition and diversity. To offset this disparity and ramp up its hiring of women and minorities, the company would need to create a new pool of STEM graduates. It established the Akamai Technical Academy.

The Akamai Technical Academy is a rigorous training program — with 600 to 900 hours of class time — for diverse college graduates with non-traditional technology backgrounds as well as “career pivoters” who want to establish careers in the technology industry. Students who complete the program are offered a contract position, with the potential for a full-time opportunity depending on their performance. “New candidates may not necessarily have a STEM background, but we make sure that they do have the technical know-how to grasp the concepts that we are teaching them in the training,” said Williams. In addition to boosting the pool of qualified diverse candidates, Akamai’s CHRO Jim Gemmell says the program also helps mitigate the risk of failure in these roles.

How can other organizations learn from this endeavor? Williams and Gemmell shared four key steps:

  • Gain the full support of senior leadership. The management team and business unit leaders must buy in to the program completely. The commitment of resources and promotion of the program needs to start at the top to drive organization-wide adoption.
  • Identify the right external and internal partners. Akamai works with third-party vendors for needs such as training curriculum and payroll, and with internal business units that are the likeliest beneficiaries of the program as well as its learning and development organization. Securing the right internal and external collaborators ensures that the program will receive the right resources in order to succeed.
  • Clearly define criteria for participants. Organizations that are considering establishing similar programs need to outline selection criteria and desired outcomes. Akamai identified a competency set designed to predict success in trainees. Rather than focusing on technical expertise like they would for typical candidates, the program’s leaders assessed recruits for the ability to grasp complex concepts and process large amounts of information quickly.
  • Measure everything. The Akamai team reviews trainees at regular increments during the program along the same dimensions that a full-time employee is reviewed. Long-term success will be measured by demand in the internal market for this talent, the conversion rates from trainees to full-time employees and the success of these employees, including how many move onto leadership roles.

For organizations across industries, diversity is a business imperative. To succeed in a world marked by rapid change, digital disruption and global connectivity, companies will need diverse perspectives. As Akamai illustrates, HR leaders and their organizations that roll up their sleeves and think creatively can help move the needle on diversity.

Fleur Segal is a consultant in Spencer Stuart’s Boston office and a member of the firm’s Human Resources Practice. She brings nearly two decades of experience to her role, specializing in recruiting chief human resources officers, senior talent management and rewards leaders, as well as fulfilling HR generalist and specialist positions. Reach her via email and follow her on LinkedIn.

Liam Hurley is a member of Spencer Stuart’s Board Practice and works across industries and functions, with clients ranging from large publicly traded companies to small private companies and non-profits. You can reach him via email and follow him on LinkedIn.