We’re back with the second half of our conversation with Christy Johnson, founder and CEO of Artemis Connections, as we look ahead to next week’s Diversity in Tech event. As a bonus, please read Techcrunch’s excellent in-depth article on the Future of Diversity and Inclusion in Tech.
Last week you mentioned that tech companies are churning diverse talent. What’s behind this churn?
If you look across industries, high tech tends to invest some of the least amounts in professional development. So, what tends to happen when companies are growing really fast is people get promoted into managerial roles, but often they aren’t asked if they want to be a manager. They often aren’t offered much support as they transition into that role, and it may not have been shared what the expectations are for the role and how it’s changing.
The trick with diverse teams – while, yes, they are more innovative and more creative and get better business results – they’re also prone to have more conflicts because you have different opinions coming together. It takes a skilled manager to navigate that. If you have inexperienced managers or people who haven’t had enough training and support, then you can see where it might be easier to have a homogeneous team that doesn’t have as much conflict.
Looking ahead, and in light of everything that’s happened is recent years, what’s your outlook for diversity and inclusion in the tech industry?
I think it has the potential to be pretty turbulent but I’m also feeling hopeful. Generation Z – those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s – is just starting to enter the workforce and they’re very different than millennials.
They’ve grown up with diversity, they’re digital natives, and they’re going to demand even more transparency than the millennials. Transparency can create quite a bit of turbulence but often will settle things, too. I think Gen Z is going to continue to demand transparency. The thing that I appreciate about them is that they’re action oriented.
We’ve seen evidence of this with things like March for Our Lives. They’re concerned about what’s going on in the world and they want to help. And they’re willing to work across generations to help. But they’re taking action and they will continue to take action and ask questions.
That said, I do think it’s going to cause some turbulence because they’re very different from the millennials. We now have four generations in the workforce and probably will for several years. But I’m hopeful about this generation entering the workforce, the demand for transparency, and the questions they’re going to ask, as well as their willingness to roll up their sleeves and help.
Lastly, access to venture capital funding, specifically, and entrepreneurship opportunities, generally, is a particular obstacle for women and people of color. What are your thoughts on the issue and what can be done to address it?
I designed and launched a class – Women in Entrepreneurial Leadership – as part of the University of Washington. Access to funding is really important. And venture-backed funding is one mechanism for that to happen. But there is the broader challenge of awareness of entrepreneurship opportunities or being part of the entrepreneur ecosystem.
Entrepreneurship is often not presented to women and people of color in the same way that it is with young white men. It’s presented as too risky, too big of a sacrifice. While access to funding is absolutely a problem, it applies to a certain small subset of circumstances. There is a broader issue of access to the opportunity of entrepreneurship and awareness that it can be a fantastic pathway to wealth, a pathway to flexibility, a pathway to solving problems in the world.
There’s so much talk about being the founder of a VC-backed company, and that’s great. But there are also amazing roles as an early-stage employee, which is a fantastic way to learn and get exposure to the space with lower risk. You could also serve as an advisor. There are many, many different ways to get involved. And it’s a very different world and a very different network.
Events like New Tech Northwest are important for getting exposure to this world and meeting some interesting new people. The first step is putting yourself in the environment where some of those people are – and next week’s event is a great first step.
Thank you again for your time (and the plug), Christy! Please be sure to visit New Tech Northwest to register for the Diversity in Tech event that will take place from 6-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 9 at Thinkspace in Seattle.