Five Ways Mental Health Support Can Diversify Tech


Lauren Sato, CEO of Ada Developers Academy

Women represent just 25% of the computer science workforce. Of that, women of color and gender-expansive folks 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 empowering those in historically oppressed groups to have fulfilling careers in software development, we have to look beyond technical training. Here are five ways mental health support can lead to successfully training, hiring and retaining a diverse workforce:

1. Provide free mental health care.

We cannot wait until those great corporate benefits kick in to support the workforce of the future as they endeavor to enter a space that wasn’t built for them. In my position as a leader helping operate a coding academy, I’ve witnessed how going through a major career change comes with a strain on mental health. This is particularly true for those whose rights are being challenged and those who face daily battles with systemic racism. Many in these groups need mental health support in order to persist in the tech industry. Since my company launched a free mental health program for staff and students last year, we have seen utilization rates over 50% and retention rates stay high, even with the additional strain of the pandemic and many institutions reporting serious 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 workforce. Training programs and companies that are serious about retaining diverse talent need to recognize the compounding stress of internal and external challenges. Not only do they need to recognize this, but they should also offer opportunities for their students and employees to learn how to build and access the support they need in order to thrive.

3. Incorporate success coaches.

In my last position, I dug deep into what really drives employee retention. One critical element is having a confidant at work. By bringing this concept forward into training spaces, you can have the same impact on student persistence through challenging training programs. In addition to formal mental health support, students and employees need spaces where they can confidentially discuss things like their emotional wellness, accommodations and experiences. Students and employees can use help accessing academic support or professional development, bringing up career transition concerns or finding resources and referrals to external services.

4. Include self-advocacy training.

When my company is preparing people for an industry in which they are likely to be an “only” (the only woman, transgender person, etc.) on a team, we try to prepare them for the reality of the obstacles they will face. By incorporating self-advocacy training into our core curriculum, students can learn to set boundaries for themselves, prepare for the mental health effects of challenging work and look for ways to combat burnout and microaggressions. This is something other training programs and companies can include in 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 give our team members permission to do the same. Throughout my career, I have put my own therapy appointments on my calendar, during the workday, for everyone to see, and I have heard from countless people that seeing mental health care on my calendar made them feel okay about doing the same. If you are not currently leveraging formal mental health care for yourself, you can add mindfulness time or mental health daily walks to your calendar—whatever form is most authentic for you; it is worth it for yourself and for your team.

With the Great Reshuffling, we have an incredible opportunity to change the makeup of the tech workforce. In order to make the most of this moment, we have to be willing to support people where they are at, which means providing mental health support from training, through hiring and retention efforts at our schools and companies.

By adding these supports, we can send a clear message to our students and employees that we acknowledge the mental and emotional strain that comes with joining an industry that needs, but wasn’t built for them. It says, “We see you, we are with you and you belong here, even when things get hard.”


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