A new survey commissioned by the workforce experts at York Solutions finds that 87 percent of IT leaders believe improving diversity within information technology (IT) departments is important, and 65 percent say it is very or extremely important.

The survey asked senior IT executives about their teams, their priorities, and the value they bring to their companies. The results are featured in a new white paper, available for free download here, offering valuable insights into the current state of IT teams and providing an outlook for the future.

“Since the IT unemployment rate is only about 2 percent today, and even negative in some regions, companies are being forced to look beyond the ‘typical’ IT candidate and to fill jobs from a more diverse labor pool,” says York Solutions’ Vice President of Consulting Services Tom Parker. “Our survey findings suggest IT leaders are aware that a serious lack of diversity is an issue and believe improving diversity would be beneficial to their teams. It also shows they feel only somewhat prepared to make such improvements on their own.”

To help companies strategically address these challenges, the York Solution’s white paper explores key findings from the survey in depth, along with additional research and trends emerging within the IT workforce.

For example, the survey suggests that while IT leaders theoretically support education-focused strategies to build a stronger pipeline of candidates, they prioritize immediately actionable programs focused on more effective sourcing, retention, and business “returnships” geared toward helping talent re-join the workforce as IT leaders.

The white paper highlights programs like York Solutions’ Barriers to Entry (B2E), a program providing companies access to a returning pool of talent that allows them to complete projects while also diversifying their team.

“For individuals looking to re-enter the workforce, B2E helps break through barriers,” Silvia Hinton, Vice President of Barriers to Entry Program Development at York Solutions, explains. “We’re providing access to a top-notch pool of women in IT, as one example, and to military veterans as another. We’re closing the diversity gap. But also, by facilitating ‘returnship’ we’re sourcing high-quality candidates with extensive training and transferable skills.”

According to the survey, the top approach IT leaders are using to source candidates is hiring outside contractors to find the right IT resources (82 percent). Others are trying sourcing techniques like cross-training (36 percent), apprenticeships (28 percent), and targeting underrepresented groups (23 percent). Companies also are finding ways around hiring, say the leaders polled: automating functions to reduce the need for headcount (51 percent), using outsourced resources to supplement their internal teams (48 percent) or offshoring (41 percent), and acquiring small companies to gain needed expertise (11 percent).

Based on these and other findings, the white paper concludes that companies have an opportunity to boost competitive edge, spark innovation and growth, and add value by addressing the lack of diversity among their IT teams and the technology skills gap. By deploying creative strategies to source top talent, improve processes and efficiency, and align effectively with overall business priorities, IT leaders can champion these opportunities.