Lauren Sato, CEO of Ada Developers Academy
Women just represent 25% of the computer science workforce† Of these, women of color and gender-expansive people are even more disenfranchised. The tech industry is at a crossroads where it can no longer turn a blind eye to its diversity problem.
If we want to build a more inclusive and resilient economy by enabling people in historically oppressed groups to have fulfilling careers in software development, we need to look beyond technical training. Here are five ways mental health care can lead to successfully training, hiring, and retaining a diverse workforce:
1. Provide free mental health care.
We can’t wait for those great business benefits to take effect to support the workforce of the future as they try to step into a space that wasn’t built for them. In my role as a leader helping run a coding academy, I’ve seen how going through a major career change comes with a mental health burden. This is especially true for those whose rights are challenged and those who face systemic racism on a daily basis. Many in these groups need mental health support to persevere in the tech industry. Since my company launched a free mental health program for staff and students last year, we’ve seen over 50% utilization and a high retention rate, even with the added strain of the pandemic and many institutions reporting severe retention drops†
2. Provide ongoing mental health training.
Training should focus on self-care, boundary setting, neurodivergence, prioritization and trauma healing. In my experience, workshops on these topics have helped equip students for the realities they will face in the job market. Training programs and companies looking to retain diverse talent need to recognize the increasing stress of internal and external challenges. Not only must they recognize this, but they must also provide opportunities for their students and staff to learn how to build and use the support they need to thrive.
3. Include success coaches.
In my last position, I delved into what really drives employee retention. A crucial element is having a counselor at work. By bringing this concept to the fore in training rooms, you can have the same impact on student perseverance through challenging training programs. In addition to formal mental health care, students and staff need space where they can talk confidentially about issues such as their emotional well-being, accommodation, and experiences. Students and staff can use help accessing academic support or professional development, raising career transition concerns, or finding resources and referrals to outside services.
4. Include self-help training.
When my company prepares people for an industry where they are likely to be the “only” (single woman, transgender, etc.) on a team, we try to prepare them for the reality of the obstacles they will face. By incorporating self-help training into our core curriculum, students can learn to set boundaries for themselves, prepare for the mental health impacts of challenging work, and find ways to combat burnout and micro-aggression. This is something other training programs and companies can incorporate into their training and onboarding to help incoming employees navigate support services and effectively advocate for their own needs.
5. Normalize mental health care through visibility.
By modeling and being open about our own mental health care, we as leaders can effectively empower our team members to do the same. Throughout my career, I’ve scheduled my own therapy appointments during the workday for everyone to see, and I’ve heard from countless people that seeing mental health on my calendar made them feel good about doing the same. to do. If you’re not currently using formal mental health services for yourself, you can add mindfulness time or daily mental health walks to your calendar — whatever form is most authentic to you; it’s worth it for yourself and for your team.
With the Great Realignment, we have an incredible opportunity to change the makeup of the technical workforce. To make the most of this moment, we must be willing to support people where they are, which means providing mental health support through training, through recruitment and retention in our schools and businesses.
Adding this support allows us to send a clear message to our students and staff that we recognize the mental and emotional strain associated with joining an industry that needs it, but wasn’t built for them. It says, “We see you, we’re with you, and you belong here, even when the going gets tough.”