How Diversity Efforts Are Changing Notions Of Competitiveness And Prowess In Tech

Written by Emily Peed

I was part of a scholarship-based diversity program from the National Center for Women and Information Technology. This program brought me into contact with people who were simply on fire to see more diverse participation in technology. It has enabled me to speak on diversity panels, run afterschool programs to increase female participation in tech, and given me so much opportunity to grow. As much as we may justifiably pat ourselves on the back for coming as far as we have, we must never stop the onward march to total inclusiveness.

I know these efforts can be helpful, as they opened a doorway for me. However, there are still battles of competency assumptions, bias, or stigmas. I was told the only reason I received scholarships was because I was a woman. There may have been the assumption that as a female programmer I have lower standards to reach and don’t work as hard. How about having to explain why referring to all female co-workers as “babes” is objectifying language. This is why we must continue the discussion on diversity.

In 2014, Google noticed that portions of videos from users were being uploaded upside down. What was causing this in approximately 5-to-10 percent of videos? Was it a user error? Was it an application error? No, it was simply that the users were left-handed, held the phone differently, and the application did not take them into account. As subtle as a completely right-handed development team may appear, it can have consequences for technology overall. It speaks to the token game we play. If a single left-handed developer had been included, the issue might have been noticed. With two or more left-handed developers, it might have been a more central point of discussion.

Ruthe Farmer is chief evangelist for CSforAll Consortium, a network of providers, schools, funders and researchers working to expand access to computer science education for all students.

“In an innovation economy, diversity is a must-have to remain competitive,” Farmer said. “It’s simply smart business to leverage the minds and perspectives of all the talent in our arsenal – to find solutions faster and solve a greater diversity of challenges.”

Innovation and economic prosperity are statistically on the side of diversity, according to Intel’s “Decoding Diversity” report, released in November 2016:

  • Revenue for NASDAQ-listed tech companies rose 3 percent for every 1 percent increase in African American and Hispanic representation.
  • Closing the diversity gap has been associated with an increase of national GDP of 1.2-to-1.6 percent in addition to the 7 percent that technology already generates.
  • Improving ethnic/gender diversity in U.S technology yields economic opportunities of approximately $470 billion to $570 billion.
  • Operating margins are more effective with more diversity. A 0.3-to-0.4 percent increase in diversity could generate $6 billion to $7 billion in operating earnings industry wide.

Correlation does not necessarily deem causation. However we do know that diversity can be an indicator of a company’s performance. More diverse companies with fewer employees reporting unfair treatment scored higher on an Innovation Index from Great Place To Work, the research partner for Fortune.

Fortune’s survey found that when minority employees make up 31 percent of the workforce, their varied perspectives and insights are strengths in making more successful technology. Other studies show that higher rates of diversity often lead to more efficient teams that tend to stay on schedule and under budget, while improving employee performance, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

“The (tech) industry is at the moment where we’re starting to wake up,” said Megan Smith, a chief technology officer for Intel’s Decoding Diversity Report. “We, as a nation, must challenge every CEO, every company, and every investor to think about what they can do to ensure that they are tapping into all of our nation’s talent so that their workforces and investment portfolios look like America.”

How can this be done?

There is unconscious bias training, recruitment from historically black colleges, investment into companies that have diverse boards, internal promotion of minority leaders, and donations to programs that seek to increase diversity as a whole.

There is volunteerism, engaging your company with schools, and taking minority leaders into local communities to let children learn from them. We are still waiting to see the impact of some of these efforts, but more will be needed. We must change the conversation surrounding diversity.