"Diversity in tech"

A quick Google search of this results in countless thought-pieces, articles, and forums that intend to “start the conversation” and address the issue. The problem with conversation is that it doesn’t always lead to action. One demographic still dominates the tech field and benefits from its pathways to economic opportunity. Despite good intentions, there are two myths about diversity that help perpetuate the lack of action and tangible solutions.

MYTH 1: There are no people of color, people in underserved communities, or women available to fill positions.

It’s easy to ignore the problem when it feels like it’s not our fault. For example, it’s true that the majority of computer science graduates are white and male. However, having a great majority of white men in your organization is a recruitment issue, and it reflects the problem with relying solely on networking and referrals. By waiting for candidates to come to you, you help shut out people of underrepresented demographics, even if you’re not the one shutting the door. If you really value diversity, you will diversify recruitment efforts to draw from a larger pool of applicants.

The pipeline problem isn’t that there aren’t enough people, but that certain people are not being allowed in. Your potential diverse employee base exists and, yes, it takes extra effort to find it. But by taking the easy way out, our industry is incapacitating underserved groups. Because there is power in diversity, we need to ensure people in these groups are not just consumers of our products, but creators as well.

MYTH 2: If you do everything right for your career, success will happen. The groups who don’t reach those successes are personally dysfunctional.

We have to understand that there is a historical reality of preserving economic hierarchy. Speaking out about injustice is a moral objective, especially for those in power within powerful industries. As history has shown, having people of color and women at the table is not only the nice thing to do, the charitable thing to do, or the right thing to do: It’s imperative to save lives and build an equitable future for all.

So what do we do to fix this?

When addressing diversity, the solution is not to quickly hire a minority or a woman just diversity’s sake. Companies cannot settle for tokenism. It is critical to be genuine and create an environment where diversity flourishes. This way, you won’t find yourself hiring people just to check a box. More often than not, we can become content with this sort of symbolic diversity in our places of work. Seeing one diverse face makes us feel good about our efforts.

Start by making a commitment to do the following:

  1. Go where these candidates are, because they may not fall in your traditional recruiting practices. Make sure they know you are out there and that you want them in your company.
  2. Grow a diverse candidate pool before actively interviewing for a position.
  3. Most importantly, build a strong community. The burden doesn’t only rest on hiring; it also rests on creating an environment that fosters active conversation and creates a place where different backgrounds thrive. For example, provide a career ladder that is public and equally accessible to each and every employee in the company. While there are many women and people of color who have “broken the glass ceiling” in high-profile ways, the everyday reality for minorities and women who want to climb the career ladder within tech companies is not being stopped at a glass ceiling, but an iron door. Minorities and women aren’t always welcome at the VP level, the C-suite, or the Board of Directors.

As a black woman who also happens to be an immigrant, I meet a lot of surface-level requirements for being a diversity hire. It’s not common for me to see others who look like me or share my background in the tech space. Even though my gender and skin color easily check a box for any tech company, my unconventional background is my biggest asset. I see things differently and approach difficult problems from an unusual angle. Having a truly diverse company is more than employing people who look outwardly different, it’s about having diversity of thought and experience to engage with the diverse market you are trying to reach. Allowing people to learn from one another and solve problems from the vantage-point of many different worldviews will ensure that your team will present clients with the best possible solutions.

It’s time to broaden our conversation and actions surrounding diversity from checking a box to prioritizing all underserved groups. This includes women and people of color, as well as other even-less-prioritized groups such as non-violent offenders, the autistic community, among others. Limiting diversity to hiring one or two people of color or women is an injustice that also works to limit the potential of the field and, in turn, your business. From hiring to investment, actively breaking down barriers with every business decision you make is the key to changing the trajectory of underserved communities and the trajectory of the field as a whole. Technology has to stop happening to us and start happening with us.