Diversity in Tech

Megan Smith, CTO of the United States, summed it up best when she said: “The laptops we use, the infrastructure that’s all around​ us, the mobile apps we download to our smartphones — they are missing a voice.†In this instance, Megan was referring to the voice of women, but the statement is equally true for all minorities.

At the end of October, I will be moderating a Diversity in Tech panel at the upcoming Toronto Tech Summit. Last year, I moderated the Women in Tech panel and I’m thrilled that this year, it has been expanded to include all minorities in tech, because many of the issues are overlapping. What are the issues and why should we care, you ask? Good question and one that I believe I can answer.

Let me start by telling you that I have not always had these answers. I am a woman in technology after all, and for many years, I thought there was no reason to care about the subject. To me, if a woman wanted to be in technology, she could. After all, here I am — Senior Technical Director at Klick. Then, something changed.

A year and a half ago Genesys asked me to present at the Toronto Tech Summit. When they asked for a topic, Women in Tech seemed like a good choice. Relevant to me being a woman in technology, obviously. Then a colleague, in the nicest way possible, questioned my topic given the number of women that would be in the audience. I felt like such an idiot. I was going to be presenting about Women in Tech to a room full of men. After my initial panic, I decided not to change my topic, but instead delved into researching why this topic should be of importance to the people who would be attending. In the process, I learned that everyone really should care. Not only about women in tech, but about representing a full range of diversity in tech. Here’s why:

 

Diversity brings greater creativity, better decisions, and broader points of view and opinions

This is true for so many reasons and only makes sense. If we have homogeneous companies, we’re going to have very narrow perspectives and opinions.

There was a study where researchers analyzed the makeup and results of more than 4,000 R&D teams around the world, they found that gender diverse groups can lead to greater creativity and better decisions. Also, it’s been proven that diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones in innovative environments.

Another study showed that diverse teams were 45% more likely to report a growth in market share over the previous year and were 70% more likely to report capturing a new market.

 

Diversity creates a more engaging and welcoming work environment

If your team is made up of lots of different types of people, it’s going to be welcoming for not only new hires, but also clients. Lots of different types of people means lots of different people to learn from, talk with, and even hang out with after work. This type of engagement results in better long-term staff retention.

 

Women are the majority consumers of tech

Research has shown, despite the long-running stereotypes to the contrary:

  • women purchase and use more tablets, laptops, and smartphones;
  • they download more music, movies, and games;
  • they make the majority of household technology purchasing decisions
  • they also utilize more services like social media

Having more women on your team will bring a vested interest in helping shape the tools that we are clearly eager to use.

 

It’s the right thing to do

While it’s easy to turn a blind eye, let’s instead help build diverse companies for the greater good. Currently, the heart of the tech industry, San Franscisco, has the fastest-growing income inequality in the U.S. Shockingly, this gap is on par with Rwanda.

That’s a serious moral issue and is a liability for the tech sector’s future. By hiring minorities, we help “confront issues that reach both within and beyond company walls.â€

 

Businesses with a woman on the executive team are more likely to have higher valuations

A study showed that valuations were 64% higher at first funding and 49% larger at last. Kevin O’Leary, a vocal advocate for increased representation of women in leadership has reported that women lead all of his companies that are showing returns. 27 companies, 55% female CEOs. So if female leadership works, we need more females leading our tech teams, departments, and companies.

As I mentioned before, I used to believe that if a women wanted to be in technology, she could. But I know now that’s it’s not that simple. I have since learned the number one reason women do not enter the STEM subjects in university is because of stereotypes. Stereotypes like these:

 

LEGO

 

The page above is from my kid’s LEGO Encyclopedia. These types of images, which reinforce the stereotype of the geeky male programmer can predispose children to identifying either with or against their perception of who a computer programer is. The only female shown in the context of the computer programer plays the role of cute librarian.

Research shows that 74% of women show an interest in STEM subjects in high school, but only 20% of those pursue them. Another study shows that among Black and Hispanic students from low to middle-income families, three of the top ten desired careers for were in the tech field. Also, 70% of these teens surveyed expressed at least some enthusiasm for these jobs. According to other research, just 8% of Hispanics and 4% of Blacks earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

These facts affected me the most. People who are otherwise interested in a particular field are avoiding it due to perceived stereotypes. When I thought about it further, I started to realize that it wasn’t that simple for me either. I decided to go into Computer Science after my computer programming teacher in High School told me that I was good at it and encouraged me to pursue it. I initially thought he was insane because I knew it was mostly men and I only considered it seriously once my parents discouraged me from becoming a fashion designer. When I finally decided to pursue programming, I felt I was taking a risk and I was terrified I would get there and be told that I didn’t belong. Years later, I have a career that I love.

So if companies benefit from having greater diversity, and working in tech is so awesome, how can we make things better and encourage more women to pursue careers in tech?

 

Change your hiring practices

Be mindful about the types of questions you ask candidates. Dropbox was interviewing candidates in a room called “The Break Up Room†which was right beside a room called the “Bromance Chamber.†They were asking questions like “What is something that you’re geeky about?†and “What is a superpower you would give to your best friend?†These kinds of questions can be alienating to women in this case. Generally, be mindful of whether your questions represent only one perspective or viewpoint. Be welcoming right from the start.

 

Fix technical interviews that suck (most of the time)

Etsy, who grew their female engineers by 500% in one year also believe most technical interviews suck. They’ve stopped asking questions that say, “Quick, prove to me how smart you are!†“Quick†and “prove to me†are very rarely actually part of the job and might setting candidates up for failure in the process.

I fully understand that companies want to hire the best person for the job, but I believe we need to redefine what is the best. Studies show that non-white males do not perform well on technical tests, but do just as well in job performance. Also, evaluating a programmer while they are sitting in a room by themselves, writing code doesn’t tell you about how well they work on a team, collaborate ideas, or whether they are mindful of the impact of their code?

 

Show your company is a great place to work

Everyone wants to work at a great place and why not show why you’re company is particularly great for minorities in tech? Explain that you take pay equity seriously. Show that you’re serious about creating a great workplace and that you have a great culture. Make your employees feel comfortable and be transparent with all employees. Most importantly, create a culture of inclusion where everyone feels they have a voice.

 

Add a diversity page to your site

Join the many other companies that have a diversity page on their website — Apple, Google, Dell, Intel to name a few — and put one on your company’s site. On these pages they talk about empowering, diverse benefits, fairness, and inclusion.

 

Promote minorities to leadership positions

Show that there is opportunity for all within your company. It will not only draw diverse people to your company, but encourage them to stay, knowing they will be considered fairly for promotions.

 

HIRE MORE DIVERSELY!

Be vocal about your attempts to hire diversely. Everyone just wants to know that you’re trying! That sends a strong message!

I believe the above actions are a great starting point to making a difference, and start to break stereotypes which can funnel down to students who are deciding what careers to choose. In the meantime, now that I know why we all should care about having diversity in tech, I will continue to try to break stereotypes myself. I hope that you will join me in encouraging others to participate in conversations and to growing initiatives that will help the entire tech community embrace greater diversity.