Image: iStock
Image: iStock

Capital One Global is making major changes to its technology strategy. One of its principal objectives, says CIO Rob Alexander, is cultivating a diverse workforce.

"One of the most important things that we're focused in our digital transformation is how we attract and retain the great engineering talent we need to be a great company," Alexander told CIO UK's sister title CIO US. "Diversity and inclusion is an important part of that mission."

That mission led Alexander to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology in Houston in October to scout new recruits for the company.

This year's event attracted 15,000 predominantly female attendees, from college students seeking internships to experienced IT professionals eyeing senior technology roles. A number of them received job offers from Alexander.

"You've got to invest first to build a critical mass of talent and embrace the latest technologies and get them operating that way and then you can build on that and get momentum," he said. [Read next: Capital One Europe CIO Rob Harding interview - Technology and finance fusion]

Serving different demographics

Such a strategy seems a sensible one for a company with approximately 45 million customer accounts and more than 45,000 employees worldwide, including workers at its UK headquarters in Nottingham.

"We serve customers across every demographic and so it's really important that we have a base of associates who represent each and understand the need of all of those consumers," said Alexander, who has led the IT department at the financial services company since 1998. "We want the best talent from every demographic."

A diverse workforce naturally produces a variety of digital products for a wide-ranging set of customers, and is proven to make workforces more effective through improved analysis and problem-solving. Despite these confirmed business benefits and the increasing competition for tech talent, the pool of female talent remains underutilised.

For an industry founded on innovation, the tech sector has a surprisingly outdated approach to gender diversity. Company reports released last year revealed that women remain grossly underrepresented in Silicon Valley. The proportion of women in tech roles worldwide ranged from 37% at Amazon to just 13% at Twitter.

Any improvements reported are only incremental ones. LinkedIn topped the list, with a 2% annual increase in the proportion of female employees.

Barriers to women

Tech companies often cite the talent pipeline as the principal source of the problem, with just 17.9% of computer sciences degrees in the UK awarded to women, according to the WISE campaign group.

But research suggests that cultural concerns also play a prominent role. A Stanford University study found that 66% of women working in tech felt excluded from social and networking opportunities due to their gender.

The rise of the "bro-grammer", homogenised work environments and implicit biases all contribute to an environment that can limit career progression and deter job applications, while an androcentric work culture often overlooks childcare needs.

Despite the gloomy statistics, Capital One Global's drive to attract a broader range of talent shows that the tech world is beginning to take action to develop a more diverse workforce that reflects its customers.

[Read next: Capital One CIO Rob Harding on Blockchain, IoT, DevOps, AI and machine learning]