EDITORIAL: Diversity-unfriendly legislature works against Indiana business and talent imperatives
My name is Kate Maxwell, and I am a member of the Indy tech community, a TechPoint Board Member, and a Hoosier by Choice. I became a Hoosier by Choice four years ago, when I made the decision to move my family to Indiana for a career opportunity in the tech-enabled Aerospace & Defense industry.
In theory, I’m the type of talent that Indiana wants to attract: a diverse (female), mid-career, high-earning tech exec; a coastal transplant; a parent; a small business owner and supporter; active in my community; donating of my time, money, and resources to local non-profits; with a strong desire to give back to the community that I now call home.
I love this state, and I did not land here by accident. I had options, and I weighed the pros and cons. Ultimately, I decided to move to Indiana. There is so much to recommend about this state—job & educational opportunity, cost of living, work/life balance, sports & outdoor scene, world-class Hoosier warmth—and I would love to call Indiana my forever home. But the unfortunate reality is this: recent legislative activity is making Indiana an increasingly unfriendly environment for women, for people of color, and for the LGBTQ+ community. And if I was making that same relocation decision today, my calculus would be different as a result.
This same calculus is being done by other tech talent right this very moment—particularly in light of today’s hybrid landscape, when employees can work from anywhere, and are actively choosing to do so. The great talent migration should present a huge opportunity for a state like Indiana, but we are not setting ourselves up to capitalize upon it. In fact, we are pushing people away.
This is a choice that our lawmakers are actively making, and it is a choice that directly impacts Indiana citizens, Indiana businesses, Indiana tourism, and the Indiana state economy. We need to act now to avoid long-term, lasting, and perhaps irreversible damage. The world is watching, and what we do next is up to us to decide. Let’s make sure we are on the right side of history.
Much has been eloquently written about the human implications of this legislative activity, including the abortion ban and the “Slate of Hate.” The impacts on Indiana citizens, and more specifically, on people from underprivileged and underrepresented demographics, are well-documented—and gut-wrenching.
Tech community, Indiana businesses, and state leaders: we need your help, and I ask you to join me in raising your voice and leveraging your economic influence—and your votes—to help shape the future of this state. Quite frankly, we have failed to collectively raise our voices in the most recent legislative session. Our silence as a community is loud. We can no longer afford to be silent, and our action is overdue.
But we still have an opportunity to wield influence and drive change. It is not too late.
According to the 2023 TechPoint Tech Workforce Report, “talent shortages present a broad-based threat to Indiana’s economic growth and the productivity improvement and resulting financial well-being of Hoosiers.” This is especially true in the tech sector, where “difficulty in accessing tech talent is the greatest barrier to greater digitalization across all sectors.” In the industry I serve—Aerospace & Defense—the situation is even more dire, with the limited access to diverse, STEM-focused, US-citizen talent creating a national security challenge.
Every company on the planet, and certainly, every industry in our state, is increasingly technology-enabled. Therefore, it is an economic imperative that we make Indiana a desirable state for tech talent—to attract talent coming from other geographies, as well as to retain existing talent and brainpower in our state.
Indiana is home to some of the best universities in the world, but we frequently fail to retain graduating talent due to a number of key factors, including our lack of social progress and non-diversity-friendly legislature. Millennials and Gen Zs now comprise nearly half (46%) of the total American workforce, and their ranks continue to grow as Baby Boomers retire. This growing talent base has high expectations about the role their employers take on social issues, and they are actively pushing businesses to drive change.
According to Forbes, “44% percent of millennials and 49% of Gen Zs surveyed said that, over the past two years, they have made choices about the types of work they would do—and the organizations they’d be willing to work for—based on their personal values. And as consumers, they often stop or initiate relationships based on how companies treat the environment, protect personal data and position themselves on social and political issues.” In short, your talent base is watching what you do in this moment, and they expect action—and are making career decisions based on it.
There is clearly much work to do on the social front in Indiana. In 2022, Indiana ranked a dismal #39 out of 50 states for women’s rights and received the lowest possible grade by the Human Rights Campaign for achieving basic equality for LGBTQ+ people. Indiana has the third worst maternal mortality rate in the nation among states that report data, with 43.6 deaths per 100,000 live births—and with disproportionate impact on black women & families. For reference, this data illustrates that it is more dangerous to be pregnant and give birth in the state of Indiana than in countries like Jordan, Cuba, Mongolia, Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. This is inexcusable.
We should be doing everything in our power to make Indiana more inclusive and more appealing to tech talent. Addressing the social issues cited above would represent great progress towards that goal. However, recent legislative activity is having the opposite effect, and our people, our businesses, and the overall economic health of our state will suffer as a result.
The anti-women, anti-gay, anti-trans legislative activity happening in Indiana is actively working against our state’s talent imperative. Tech and tech-enabled companies contribute $51 billion in Indiana Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and for every 10,000 tech-related jobs added to our state workforce, Indiana gains an average of $698 million in wages and $103 million in state and local taxes. To capture & retain this talent and enjoy the associated economic gains, TechPoint identified that “Indiana community stakeholders and employers must keep tech talent investments a top priority.”
To do that, we need to create an inclusive and welcoming environment in Indiana where all people from all backgrounds can bring their authentic selves & diverse perspectives to work. If we want to attract and retain tech talent, we need to make Indiana a talent-friendly state. And that starts with inclusive legislature.
Businesses have a part to play in creating such an environment, and Indiana businesses have wielded their influence in the past to do so. In 2015, then-Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom and Restoration act, which allowed businesses to discriminate against customers and employees on the basis of sexual orientation. The response by Indiana businesses and the tourism industry was swift. As reported by the Indy Star: “Conventions threatened to pull out, the NCAA considered relocating its headquarters, Salesforce led a social media boycott of activities in Indiana, and Angie’s List cancelled a major headquarters expansion in Indianapolis.” According to HBR.org, “[The bill] was met with an immediate loss of 12 business conventions worth $60 million and the launch of the Indiana Competes business coalition advocating for LGBTQ nondiscrimination.” You spoke up in 2015, and it worked. The law was quickly amended as a result.
It is time for Indiana businesses to speak up once again.
With TechPoint’s Mission41K initiative, Indiana is working to inclusively grow the Indiana tech workforce by 41,000 workers by the year 2030. If we are to succeed in that mission, we must draw talent from the fullness of the available talent pool, which includes women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. Indiana businesses, we need your help, and the time is now.
Tell your legislators that you support women’s healthcare, including reproductive rights; that you support the LGBTQ+ community; that you are committed to diversity, equity, & inclusion. Tell them that Indiana’s anti-women, anti-gay, anti-trans legislative activity stands in the way of the success of your business, your ability to attract & retain talent, and the health & well-being of your employees. Leverage your influence and your vote to shape Indiana legislature, as if the success of your company depends on it—because it does.
Indiana legislators, we count on you to represent the best interests of our state, and the people and businesses in it. The success of our state depends on what you do going forward. The success of our businesses depends on it. The lives and livelihoods of our people depend on it. We need to increase our access to diverse talent, and the only way to do that is to demonstrate that Indiana is a diversity-friendly state, where all people have equitable access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—including women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. We need you to make that vision a reality, so more people become—and remain—Hoosiers by Choice.
— Kate Maxwell (she/her)
2022 Indianapolis Business Journal Tech Exec of the Year, TechPoint Board Member and Hoosier By Choice
All statements offered above represent my own personal views, and I speak for myself and not on behalf of my employer. I speak as a citizen of this state, as a concerned resident and business owner, as a parent, as a Chief Technology Officer—and more importantly, on behalf of the thousands of Indiana friends, colleagues, businesses, and neighbors who need our active allyship now more than ever.