What is Diversity in Tech?
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are some of the most crucial factors that will drive success to the business through improved performance. There are numerous studies that have been conducted, that show a positive correlation between business performance and diversity in the workplace. Data from a survey conducted by PwC in 2017 show that 54% of women and 45% of men research about the company’s diversity and inclusion guidelines and procedures before accepting the employment contract. To add to that, 48% of men and 61% of women will beforehand research more about the company’s leadership team before signing the contract. When it came to minority communities in the United States, the numbers increased rapidly. This shows that people are very much interested to know the company’s stance on diversity, which means, the leadership teams have to take this issue seriously.
As such, we talk to Stacy Kirk, one of the Black female founders of a major software firm to get her perspective on diversity in technology. Stacy says that much of what we see of her today happened in 9th grade when she insisted on switching from a private to a public school. “Some of my teachers were biased against girls, and specifically against African American girls,” says the Texas native. “They refused to enroll me in AP classes, even though I was top 10 in my class! Sure, it was a ‘prestigious’ place, but that doesn’t mean much if it won’t support its young women.”
Today, with many AP classes, and a Stanford degree, Stacy has earned her spot in the technology space, becoming a renowned STEM expert. She has worked in the tech sector for over 20 years and now the CEO of her own company. Stacy’s experience encompasses diverse industries which include entertainment, security, and healthcare. She has also worked with big and renowned companies such have AT&T, BB&T, NBCUniversal, Symantec, FedEx, and Fandango.
In 2010, Stacy founded QualityWorks Consulting Group which has now become a global leader in matters software quality innovation and delivery. The company is headquartered in Los Angeles, California. Five years later, the company expanded opening offices in Kingston, Jamaica servicing clients in the United States, United Kingdom, and the Caribbean. To date, Stacy leads a team of 45+ innovative specialists from very diverse backgrounds, including 46% women of color- which is something she takes personally as a Black woman in an industry that is still male-centric and overwhelmed by male founders.
Leadership Role in Promoting a Diverse Workplace
We asked Stacy what empowered her to be a leader and to start the company and her definition of leadership. This is what she had in mind;
I think knowing that just by leading, I would be making a difference in the world. Women, especially women of color, are underrepresented in tech, especially at the executive level. But I grew up used to being different, and in fact, I thought of it as a positive thing. “Oh, I’m a girl! I’m African American! I love engineering. I will be different! Isn’t that cool?”
Stacy adds that there is no leader that knows it all and in order to break the barriers of failure and do great things, a leader has to be surrounded by a great team. Being able to a team from diverse backgrounds promotes diversity in the workplace giving each person an opportunity to become the best that they can be. This allows you as a leader to be successful based not on your own individual knowledge and expertise, but rather a collective diversity.
Increasing diversity and inclusion especially diversity in tech in the workplace requires an overhaul in the organization’s culture, which in many cases is easier said than done. Historically, many of the predominant organizations in the tech sector in the U.S. have been dominated by Caucasian, middle-to-upper class men. Over time and due to the fact that these industries had been long colonized by a single demographic, multiple levels of culture have been developed and have become a part of our identity. This is where leadership comes in where a strong leader has to work his/her way through the strong and complex personal beliefs of individual employees to facilitate a shift in culture.
How Technological Innovations are Affecting Diversity and Inclusion
There are many technological innovations so far and it seems the more we progress into the future, the more these innovations spring up. Chances are, some might be racially bias- take for example A.I. and some facial recognition programs which have at times be biased against people of color, and so, we wanted to find out how these innovations affect workplace diversity.
We asked Stacy whether A.I. can be made less biased and she had this to say;
It’s not easy. I’ve had a couple of conversations with Jason Arbon, who leads a company called Test.ai. He’s worked at Google specifically on bias in AI; it’s something he’s very passionate to resolve, and it’s so hard. As coders, we have to ask ourselves, “How do we program for consideration of all people, and all mindsets?” It’s very difficult, but I do think we should be farther along… I make a joke that Netflix sometimes puts movies at the top of my queue just to [troll] me. Like, “Netflix, why would you ever think I want to watch that?!” I’m mildly offended! But that’s what happens when everyone on your coding team looks the same and has the same gender. Ten dudes from the West Coast in their 20s talking about removing bias? Come on.
In as much as we may want to lay blame on the tech innovations, bias is everyone’s responsibility. While it will hurt more the people who are discriminated against, it will also hurt everyone by reducing people’s responsibility to participate effectively in society. Biased A.I. reduced the potential for businesses to perform better and also affects society by promoting mistrust and producing partisan results. Business leaders who want to promote Diversity in Tech must ensure that the A.I. systems they use will improve the human-to-human interactions, and it is also their responsibility to encourage progress and put up standards that will suppress chances of bias in A.I. thus improving diversity in the workplace.
Is Diversity in Technology just another Buzzword?
Absolutely not! Stacy says;
I preach about the diversity of perspectives being the catalyst for innovation. With the Black Lives Matter movement, I’m hoping there’s a consistent push for more diversity, for more Black and marginalized people at the executive level. When we look at problems from more than one angle, we get multiple solutions, and that’s how we get better and smarter solutions. Diversity of perspective leads to bigger gains all around.
Clearly, we cannot say that we have achieved a truer sense of diversity in the workplace. There is still a lot to be done and in Part two of this 2 part series, we will look at why it is important to have diverse leadership and how cultures shape diversity and inclusion, and how to build more diverse teams.