Diversity & equality in tech in a post-Trump world

Written by
Renee La Londe

20 Jan 2017

20 Jan 2017 • by Renee La Londe

While the US President-elect has a checkered record on the subjects of diversity and gender equality, it is worth noting that diversity and gender are issues that have been at the forefront of the technology industry for a number of years now. 

According to a Reuters study, 30% of 450 technology executives stated that their groups had no women in leadership positions. In the US, Only 18 percent of undergraduate computer science degrees and 26% of computing jobs are held by women, and it is worse at the top of the corporate tree with just five percent of leadership positions in the technology industry held by women. 

While unconscious bias exists in all fields of work, it is certainly more visible in STEM industries and especially the tech space. In addition to physical numbers however, the question of equal pay is still one of disquiet. Most recently, research commissioned by recruitment firm Hired highlighted that women in the UK tech sector still earn nine percent less than their male counterparts – a finding that will sadly not come as a shock to many. 

Following the November 9th result, many of Silicon Valley’s leaders have come out with positive ‘all-inclusive’ messages. Apple’s Tim Cook published an internal memo to all staff immediately after the result, assuring them that Apple ‘celebrates the diversity of its team’, encouraging employees to unite and move forward together. Other influential tech leaders have followed suit too; Salesforce’s, Marc Benioff, LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, Box’s Aaron Levie and eBay’s Devin Wenig, all reiterated such messages. So why is it so important (despite the political climate) for tech leaders to keep diversity at the forefront of their talent acquisition strategy and culture? 

Financial benefits of having woman in leadership roles: according to Prof Sir Andrew Likierman, “businesses that embrace diversity perform better”, and global research from DDI, found that the percentage of women in leadership roles directly tied into the overall business success of organisations. 

The findings clearly indicate that of the participating organisations, those in the top 20% of financial performance have 37% of their leaders as women and 12% of their leaders are high-potential women; whereas, companies in the bottom 20% counted only 19% of their leaders as women, and eight percent of their leaders as high-potential women.

Innovation: companies that, knowingly or not, hire people with uniform perspectives often end up with the kind of conformity that stifles innovation – put simply, when you increase diversity of thought, you reduce groupthink and this is key for innovation and productivity internally, as well as recognition externally too. 

The facts speak for themselves: diversity and more women in the workplace is a boom for business, and those that embrace it should be rightly celebrated. To the credit of the tech industry, many, if not all the leading companies, have created diversity programs that are helping to change mindsets and drive greater diversity in the workplace; however, all too often the tech space as an industry is still falling well short. 

Shortage of technical workers in the US: Code.org projected that the US economy would add 1.4 million computing jobs by 2020, but just 400,000 computer science students by then. In 2014, 32% of those graduating with Computer Science (CS) and Computer and Info Sciences were women (ncwit.org). 

The tech industry needs women: even with offshoring being an alternative option there is a big gap in tech positions that need to be filled in the US. So with all of the benefits of having woman as part of the business and technical equation; how do corporations attract more women in technical roles for the long-haul and grow them into positions of leadership?  
Conveying the importance of shaping the future: even though it is now mainstream for girls to be equally exposed to STEM subjects within education systems (in the US there are 21% more women undergraduates interested in studying Computer Science in 2015 than in 2000 – ncwit.org). The reality is that even though women are studying STEM more than ever before, they are not staying on the STEM train long enough, often dropping out of the workforce or pursuing other careers. 

In a world of digital footprints, cyber bullying and security threats, it is imperative that girls are inspired at an early age to understand the technological aspects of the digital landscape so they feel compelled to be thought leaders and major contributors in this space. Tech companies that are leading the digital transformation are in the best position to help get that message out – we cannot rely solely on teachers and professors. 

Showcase female leaders early on: tech companies should also create compelling programs to encourage girls to be leaders. After all, if they are going to shape the new digital world they need to be leaders. Outside of being exposed to STEM, girls need to engage with role models that have stayed in the game as current leaders in the tech space.  

This is the underlying ethos behind why we are a sponsor of KITS, the first all women technical school in Hyderabad, India and why we founded the GLAM for girls aged 8-13. A big part of the program at GLAM is to have successful women (tech leaders) talk about how they overcame obstacles and challenges in the course of their own career. The hope is that this will inspire girls to be leaders and to have the courage to take on the challenges of a male-dominated field.   

Female leaders can also help lead the way in creating a diverse workforce: in our case, we are made up of 54 percent women and 51% minorities and we have done this organically by simply identifying the best talent. 

Globally, we are still some way off in terms of achieving a ‘Jemima Bezos’ or a ‘Laura Ellison’ in terms of a pin-up female tech icon for young women to emulate. However, with figures like Ginni Rometty, Meg Whitman and Martha Lane-Fox already out there, with greater emphasis on mentoring we should start to see more prominent and recognizable female figures breaking onto the scene soon. 

The outlook in the White House may not be as bleak as many Americans had feared as the President-elect, Trump has already been appointing a number of notable and diverse leaders into his cabinet, including; Elaine Chao as Transport Secretary, Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary and even, openly gay, PayPal founder, Peter Thiel as a technology advisor. 

Away from politics however, the recent showing of solidarity from Silicon Valley’s leadership for equality and diversity was a positive and reassuring affirmation that regardless of who occupies the Oval office, the tech space will always openly welcome individuals, regardless of gender, color, religion or sexual orientation.