Ep 84: Tarsha McCormick: Your Plan Might Not Be Your Destiny


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Diva Tech Talk interviewed Tarsha McCormick, NA Head of Diversity and Inclusion, for Thoughtworks, a global software consulting company, driving a socially, economically fair and moral world, by bettering humanity through software. The company has won multiple awards as a top company for women in technology. “For us, diversity and inclusion are about righting some societal ‘wrongs’ – particularly as it relates to race, gender, and sexual orientation.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Tarsha is the youngest of seven children. Her parents emanated from southern United States in the 1930’s and “faced a lot of segregation in the ‘Jim Crowe’ South. Statistically speaking the odds were against me.” Tarsha inadvertently entered the technology industry but is “impassioned about diversity and inclusion in the space.” Her journey is an example of “just because it isn’t your plan, doesn’t mean it isn’t your destiny.”

Tarsha was a social worker for the State of Illinois specializing in child welfare. With a political science undergraduate degree from Illinois State University, and master’s degree from Keller Graduate School of Management at DeVry University, she carved out a path in human resources, working for Hewitt, then joining Thoughtworks almost twenty years ago. There, she has “had the opportunity to wear many hats, roles from recruiter to generalist to benefits manager to HR manager.”

Thoughtworks established the People Division in Atlanta, Georgia and Tasha moved to the role of Human Resource Business Partner, there, responsible for The Americas in 2010. “We started having some of those tough conversations about inclusion, at Thoughtworks, that some employers shy away from --- privilege, and sexism, and race in America,” she said. In 2015 she became the company’s first Head of Diversity and Inclusion. This promotion allowed Tarsha to create a diversity strategic plan and overall vision. “I was the first person in the role. I felt a little overwhelmed!” Thoughtworks was “probably at the forefront” of diversity work in the tech space, which has led the company to honors including being named a leading company for women in technology at the Grace Hopper 2018 Celebration of Women in Tech.

For recruiting, “talent doesn’t have a face or a background,” said Tarsha. “We don’t care if you are self-taught, went to a bootcamp, or the more traditional route of a 4-year university. If you have aptitude, attitude and experience, then Thoughtworks can be a home for you.” Thoughtworks has significantly expanded sources for talent. “We look for candidates outside the computer science department,” as an example, when conducting college recruiting. They also attend tech conferences, visit schools without computer science curricula, historically black colleges and universities, community colleges, and more. Tarsha stressed that it is important to closely examine your recruiting process; “are you mitigating bias in the process?”

Diversity does not stop with recruitment of people with different backgrounds, creeds/races/colors/ages/belief systems/socio-economic statuses. Equally important is “inclusion.” At Thoughtworks, the company has created a place where “people feel they have a voice; that they matter.” The team has re-architected learning/development, benefits, communication methods/content and channels, and methods of promoting high potential employees, in new, more inclusive ways.

Thoughtworks mantra is “once you learn more about a person, their background, their situation, it will hopefully broaden your perspective. You can empathize and sympathize.” To institutionalize best diversity practices, the company has established employee-led resource groups for women’s interests, LGBTQ interests, and African Americans. There is a consistent feedback mechanism to gauge employee needs. Prior to any major policy roll-out, interest groups are polled. “An example of that is when we rolled out a policy for gender transitioning on the job,” Tarsha said. “We hired an outside expert to come in and do training, not only for our leadership team, but all our employees. We had appropriate groups review the policy. We created the preferred pronoun buttons. We take them to our career fairs and have available in all our offices. We want to be sure we are being respectful of people, and how they self-identify.” To measure the success of its programs, Thoughtworks administers a diversity survey annually, and deploys “Measures of Success” --- a benchmark tracking. For companies motivated to establish diversity programs, Tarsha shared advice. As a first step, any company should start with holistic assessment, to identify areas for enhancement, gaps, and priorities. Then map back to strategic goals, and methodically, progress from step to step.

For individuals looking for new roles, Tarsha recommends asking questions about a company they are considering, including what diversity policies are; the backgrounds of leaders; leadership development opportunities, and how candidates are selected; the average tenure for an employee. Also try to speak with other employees about their experience. Tarsha emphasizes that this work cannot be done in a vacuum. “I can create the vision, and the initiatives. But it takes all of us to live it and breathe it every day; and make people feel welcome and included.” Tarsha wholeheartedly agrees with Diva Tech Talk. “One person can’t do everything. But everyone can do something!”

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