Lessons on Diversity From Full ConTech

full-con-e1438202819811Last week I was invited to participate in the Diversity and Disruption group as part of the Managing Cultural Changes track at WTIA’s Full ConTech conference. They brought together educators, industry leaders, and public officials to work on how to keep pace with the rapid growth of the technology sector in Washington State.

I found myself understanding issues I had never thought of like how an African American women aren’t just minorities, they’re double minorities facing double the issues that a minority has to deal with in trying to build a career.

My biggest takeaway from the day was that the greater number of diverse voices you have in a conversation, the more opportunities you have to find great solutions. For example, a young hispanic man mentioned how who we know and who knows us significantly affects our interests and opportunities.

He noted how he had to proactively find tech communities and opportunities because tech companies don’t reach out to people like him in his own community and at their events. He’s turned friends on to science and math being fun because he’s a part of their community and doesn’t seem like an outsider trying to convince them of what they need.

To drive interest in STEM education with diverse populations it makes sense that we need to go to them, but that isn’t happening enough.

As we explored the issues driving the lack of diversity at tech companies it seemed like a mountain of challenges face us. The only way to create the change we need is to take one step at a time, and that’s what we did.

The challenges that rose to the top of our discussions were:

1. The gap between the education job seekers have and the education required by the companies needing more workers. This goes all the way to tech not being a part of elementary school education, and kids not seeing science and math as being cool.

2. Lack of opportunity for people who are not middle or upper class white or South Asian males.

3. Lack of invitations to people of diverse backgrounds.

4. Bro culture isn’t attractive to most women, some men, and a lot of people who have families and different interests from single white males under 30.

5. Lack of diverse role models. People relate to others who have suffered in ways similar to them and made it out to a better life.

6. Most hires come from internal referral which minimizes opportunities for people who are different from your current employees.

The solutions that rose to the top of our discussions were:

1. Creating working environments where diverse populations want to work.

2. Listen to what diverse groups want and incorporating their feedback into the company culture.

3. Hire for a culture fit to the work, not to your personality. Many companies blindly see ‘culture fit’ as people who share the interests of the dominant company population which homogenizes your pool of workers and your work environment.

4. To reach diverse populations fund causes and ideas that they care about.

5. Teach kids that coding is fun through programs like Youth Digital that teaches kids to code in Java by using Minecraft.

6. Create a local program like Girls Teaching Girls to Code in the Bay area.

What are some solutions you know of that we have have missed?

Our group was one of twelve that generated actions to improve our tech talent and ecosystem issues. I’m excited that Full ConTech is a new annual part of the Seattle tech, education and government communities. By continuing these conversations and taking actions together we’ll build a better culture for tomorrow’s Washington and hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls that San Francisco and other communities have faced.


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