Thoughts on Diversity in Tech

October 9, 2017

This last week our partners and friends over at Turner, invited me to be their guest at the Grace Hopper Celebration. GCH is the world's largest gathering of female technologists. This 3 day conference run by Anita brings 18,000 crazy talented, women in tech together. No, we didn't hold hands or sing kumbaya, and we didn't man hate either. Instead, we had strong conversations about learning, improving, and being women in tech in a powerful, influential way. We heard from some of the brightest female minds in technology such as:

  • Diane Greene, CEO of VMware
  • Melinda Gates, Co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Dr. Fei-Fei Li, Professor and Director, Stanford University AI Lab, Chief Scientist, Google Cloud AI/ML
  • Chieko Asakawa, IBM Fellow
  • Mary Spio, CEO and President, CEEK VR INC

It was inspiring!


The lack of diversity (race and gender) in tech is a hot topic. And rightfully so. It's an awful lot of white guys. We need more women and more people of color in tech. Why? Because tech is literally changing the world at a rapid pace and if only a small portion of that population is creating all of it... it's leaving out the perspectives and abilities of the majority of it's users. For instance more than 50% of population and tech users are female, yet less than 5% of tech creators are women... so think of the obvious gap that creates in solving real problems, and how that lack of diversity impedes solving global challenges.In fact, it has been proven that gender diversity in computing:1. Expands the qualified employee pool (duh)2. Improves the bottom line3. Enhances innovation4. Promotes equality5. And better reflects your customer baseWhen a woman, minority, or woman who is a minority doesn’t get a seat at the table, we all suffer. So many talents and ideas are not being leveraged, for so many different reasons... and they are not good reasons. Despite what some people think, gender (or race) does NOT biologically dictate who can be engineers and should like math. (idiots)It is our culture, not our biology, that influences these areas of interests. After all, at one time our small, delicate female brains couldn't be trusted to have an opinion about voting for our leaders. We finally fixed that. But now today, we can be astronauts, CTOs, and doctors and yet it's hilarious that a female can have an understanding of football routes. (I mean, seriously?)Did you know that 75% of young girls express interest in STEM yet only 10-20% of tech jobs have women in them? Why do you think that drops off so drastically? We all know women can be fantastic leaders yet only 5% of the leadership positions in tech are held by women. And for those who make it? There is a staggering 41% quit rate for women in tech. These stats are why gender diversity is even a thing. And if you have a brain or a heart, it should be concerning. You guys. We can do BETTER.

You want some real life stories of what this looks like for women in tech?- A CTO shared with me that she was in a conference room prepping to pitch a VC for their Series A when the VC walked in, saw her, assumed she was an assistant and said "Thank goodness, I really need some coffee."  (If you ask me, she should have said me, too and asked him to go get her some.)- A female developer in a startup found out all her other male colleagues were offered equity (some hired after her), and she was the only one who was not. When she confronted the Founder, he simply said it was because she didn't ask.- Debra Sterling, Founder of GoldieBlox, shared that when she walked into a packed room of men at Y Combinator to pitch carrying a tray with her 3D printed engineering toys on it, a male Founder saw the tray and thanked her for making cookies for everyone. Her words: "I was so mad I wanted to punch him in the face." (Don't worry, she didn't.)- A male emailed a female collegue of mine recently and said "she was such a peach" for responding to him and continued with several other condescending sentences. (For the record, if you wouldn't say it to a man, you shouldn't say it to a woman).- Cassidy Williams, a Senior Software Engineer at L4 Digital shared this tweet that is one of many of this kind that she gets:

That 41% quit rate for women in tech starts to make more sense, doesn't it?Sometimes I get tired. I get tired of all the rhetoric, the noise, the arguing, the trolls. I am exhausted with our inability to just listen to each other. And I am really exhausted by our lack of compassion for each other, particularly for people who are not like us. It is 100% okay to have differing opinions. It is not okay to diminish, put down, or oppress other people.  And no, I am not trying to make any type of political statement here. I am just talking about basic kindness and common goodness for others. Diversity simply means welcoming other ideas and people to the table who can help make our world a better place. More does not equal "less" in any way.As Melinda Gates said, "The next Bill Gates may not look like the last one. And not every good idea comes wrapped in a hoodie."

Here is what I know for certain - we can do better. This is not rhetoric. This is a problem that needs to be solved if we are to have a better world.Ladies - the more we push the envelope and innovate and advocate for ourselves, the more change starts happening. We can Mentor other women, we can choose to work in environments that value what we offer, we can choose to start our own companies, we can create our own products, we can lead by example. We are called to be powerful influencers and leaders without being militant and without apologizing. Be confident and comfortable with who you are and what you can do.Men - start by listening. Start looking for your own bias and prejudice. If you run a board, a company, manage a team - consider what they look like. Are they all like you? Change is hard. New ideas are hard. But adding new voices will make you better. If you don't push yourself, you won't grow. And for those who value people over profits? You will profit from those people. I promise.

As Mary Spio challenged us at #GHC17, "At the end, we will be judged for two things. The problems we create and the problems that we solve. Our world is full of problems. Find some good ones to solve."Right now there’s a girl out there, she may be your daughter, your neighbor, or your niece, whose ideas will one day change the world. She needs everyone to start seeing her that way.

October 9, 2017
Karen Houghton