Repost from my November 26th, USA Today Article: Wayne Sutton: Three questions about diversity in tech
Google kickstarted a movement among Silicon Valley and Bay Area tech companies when they released their diversity workforce numbers in mid-2014. USA Today has chronicled the many reports that followed from multiple tech companies this year, and hosted a series of interviews and events. The conversation about diversity in tech – from data to assumptions to unconscious bias – continues to grow as 2014 comes to a close.
My company, BUILDUP, is a new accelerator launching in 2015 focused on inclusion for seed stage entrepreneurs. This year we’ve held a number of events, and three consistent questions come up over and over. One: will these companies start any diversity initiatives? Two: with all the diversity numbers so bleak, will anything really change in Silicon Valley? Three: what comes next?
With data comes accountably. With education comes awareness. But only true leadership brings change. What people are wondering is: who will lead the real change?
What diversity initiatives are tech companies going to implement?
Almost every company that released their diversity reports says they could do better, and links to their job page that includes a list of HR tactics they’re currently working on to make a more diverse workforce. If this isn’t just lip service to the issue, it’s a great first start. But much more is needed.
It’s clear from the data that there’s a pipeline problem. Companies should take a look at the growing list of organizations they could partner with in the pipeline lifecycle. Supporting these organizations gives companies access to more and better talent and creates opportunities to bring together diverse minds – which could lead to better innovation and culture improvements.
Kids today are a hackathon away from learning how to build an app or getting involved with robotics through various youth targeted programming such as Black Girls Code, YesWeCode and Level Playing Field Institute or the, Hack the Hood and the Hidden Genius Project.
For college students, CODE2040 leads the way to provide Black and Latino software engineering students internships with top tech companies.
And for adults, there is almost an initiative for every demographic that could use some improvement in the tech workforce. For the Hispanic community, for example, there’s Latino Startup Alliance and Manos Accelerator. Both organizations focus on educating Latinos in Tech and entrepreneurship. For women, Women Who Code, Girls in Tech, www.girldevelopit.com, Women Startup Labs and the Pipeline Fellowship all focus on supporting women entrepreneurship from learning coding skills to how to invest in women founders. For African Americans, there are organizations such as Black Founders that foster entrepreneurship and support tech founders.
There are also conferences and crowdfunding groups that focus on diversity, such as Platform, and sites such as FundDreamer (funddreamer.org) that focus on women and diversity groups. BUILDUP focuses on inclusion, education and access for all individuals looking to launch the next great startup – supporting founders who may not have access or understand how the startup ecosystem works.
With the above organizations and more, there’s no excuse for any tech company not to empower the younger generation via STEM initiatives. I would challenge each organization that has released their diversity report to take a good look at the pipeline and find a strategic way to get involved. Start with the youth and work your way up.
But what about internal culture and leadership? This brings us to question two…
Will Anything Actually Change in Silicon Valley?
Without a fundamental change in culture and a shift in priorities among leadership, it’s highly likely that things will pretty much stay the same. Retention numbers for women and minorities are terrible.(link to USA Today article) And we’re talking about for hispanics an average workforce of less than 1%, African-Americans an average workforce of 2% and women and an average workforce of 10%.
For people looking for a quick and simple solution, there is none. It could take 5-10 years or more to see diversity workplace numbers increase from 1-2% to get to at least 5%. And that kind of movement will take a lot of work.
But there is hope. There is hope in the few organizations that work hard to hire the best candidate for the job but work or educating individuals on hidden and non-hidden bias. Google is beginning to tackle unconscious bias. (https://www.gv.com/lib/unconscious-bias-at-work). Pandora whose gender diversity is leaps and bounds above most tech companies with 49% female workforce spent time listening to their employees and partnered with women organizations such at Women2.0. A few consultants are popping up that focus on leadership behavior change and organizational culture change, mostly from the executive coaching and organizational change management industries.
There is also hope in the global economy, as we’re seeing more startups from Africa being backed by Silicon Valley organizations. Mountain View based technology accelerator 500 Startups just accepted it’s second startup from Africa. (ref https://twitter.com/yourstoryco/status/530300463619391489 ). And while change may or may not happen in Silicon Valley, the mindset of the American culture is changing. Diverse founders are rising across the country in areas of New Jersey such as Anthony Frasier, founder of the phat startup and Chicago, with founders of Starter League, Neal Sales-Griffin and Mike McGee who will be in a position to create their own workforce that will be more inclusive compared to today’s top tech companies.
So What’s Next?
Now everyone has a data point to measure against as they begin to create changes in the years ahead. The next step is to do the hard work. Tech companies can release numbers, and we can share stories all day, but what’s really needed is to increase the pipeline and create a more diverse workforce in Silicon Valley – one that truly reflects the American growing diverse population.
Two words: Collaboration and Capital.
Collaboration. No one is going to solve all of the diversity problems alone. Everyone needs to have a seat at the table, as the saying goes. Diversity-focused programs, HR managers, investors, entrepreneurs, and CEOs all need to have more conversations about how to collaborate because this is a systemic problem.
Capital. Yes, it’s going to take money to tackle the diversity in tech problem too. It’s going to take money to support the diversity in tech organizations, money to train HR staff, and money to fund startup founders outside of the traditional Silicon Valley pattern matching bubble. For this we turn to angel investors and Venture Capitalists. Because for every Kevin Systrom, Travis Kalanick, and Mark Zuckerberg, there’s a Black or Latino or Female founder somewhere waiting for an opportunity to pitch to investors for the same fair opportunity to launch the next big thing. We need more capital investment in our future from all demographics.
We must keep in mind Silicon Valley didn’t become Silicon Valley overnight, and we can’t expect it to change overnight. This will take time and consistent effort. So start wherever you are, and make something happen to raise the bar.