Five years ago Silicon Valley tech companies were pressured to share their workforce demographics and revealed the industry is overwhelming white and male. None of this was a surprise to diversity advocates and equity champions. But the media inquiry helped to stir of diversity and inclusion conversations all over the world with plans put in place to “do better.” Leaders of tech companies penned blogs, adopted immediate policies, and pledged to devote resources for recruitment of more diverse staff members. The word “diversity” was added to mission and value statements and some larger companies even hired heads of diversity. Existing staff members were sent to unconscious bias training and the box was checked, done.
But change has been really slow and the number of Black and Latino people in the tech workforce has actually declined. Diversity fatigue has set in and many early supporters have found themselves stuck and alone. If what has been prescribed as a “solution” to diversifying the tech industry is not working, what new approaches to diversity and inclusion exist and how can we build the tech sector we want? Those questions inspired great conversation during the Thoughtworks Tech Talks panel on Monday 10/30/18. President and CEO, Kyla Williams, along with CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda Epler, participated on this panel that was moderated by Tarsha McCormick, Head of Diversity and Inclusion for ThoughtWorks.
The initial conversation starter after introductions was centered on where to start when launching diversity and inclusion efforts within a work environment. Melinda referenced data and understanding what has been done previously in similar situations to address diversity and inclusion and has it worked. She stressed that unconscious bias training has had little impact on corporate diversity and inclusion and a paradigm shift should be made to allyship. In Melinda’s Ted Talk, 3 ways to be a better ally in the workplace, she lists:
- Do No Harm
- Advocate for underrepresented people in small ways
- Change someone’s life significantly
Tarsha in turn addressed the issues with diversity and inclusion efforts when leadership is not onboard and the short-sightedness of plans. Racism, sexism and all other exclusionary practices are not going away overnight, so an organizational plan that lacks intentional leadership and does not have timed activities and check-ins to determine efficacy will fail. Tarsha details in the Built in NYC article, ThoughtWorks reveals how they built one of the most diverse and inclusive tech companies, how active support by senior leaders and key stakeholders emphasizes “the walk” versus “the talk.”
Kyla added that before data is consulted and plans are made, a crucial step in organizing and establishing workplace norms around diversity and inclusion begins with the individual. She believes self-inventory to determine the internal value of diversity, privileges, as well as apathy and exhaustion around diversity and inclusion conversations is a necessary step for organizational cultural shifts.
When HWLF made the decision to launch a tech mentoring program, it was through a value assessment of the Board members that supported launching The Shuri Project as a girls only program as shared during her talk with Chi Hack Night. Those values were further supported by data and even provided necessary information about failing efforts in diversity and inclusion efforts in the jobs sector that influenced the program and curriculum design plan for The Shuri Project.
The panelist had much more to add on the topics of intersectionality, specific needs of excluded populations, more accelerations and incubators and education around them, venture capital, and other anecdotes. The entire panel discussion can be found on the ThoughtWorks YouTube channel in the coming days. For more information about The Shuri Project or to book Kyla Williams as a guest speaker, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.