For the past few years, diversity and technology have not mixed very well. While the Tech industry continues to grow both from a financial and employment standpoint, its diversity numbers have largely lagged behind. Multiple efforts have been given to change the narrative and increase ethnic representation to match national and global numbers, but despite the efforts, improvements are hard to come by. Recent reports have revealed that even diversity champion Slack is undergoing difficulties in staying true to its mantra of inclusion.
So what is the answer? What is the solution to the issues plaguing diversity in tech, and how can I help as an African American owner of a small technology and consulting firm?
Well, enter Tech Inclusion! Tech Inclusion is a traveling conference that looks to raise awareness of technology’s issues with connecting with diverse peoples, including minority, women, LGBT, disabled, veterans, and more. The organizers create a “safe space” of sorts to promote honest discussions about issues plaguing the industry and try to figure out short term solutions while driving towards the bigger end goal. Take a look at the slide below to get a sense of how the organizers look to tackle diversity issues.
The event doesn’t stop there and included an interactive “workshop” of sorts where you could network and talk about one of the 5 points above, discussing solutions along the way. Afterwards the last bit of presentations were focused on helping entrepreneurs expand their business and informing us about the upcoming Detroit Start Up Week May 22nd – 26th – https://detroit.startupweek.co/. All in all it was a good first experience with the Tech Inclusion conference and something that I’d consider attending again.
My first introduction to Tech Inclusion was not a positive one. While scanning the internet I came across the team promoting the conference and I was not impressed. They seemed to be frustrated with the lack of diversity in tech without actually looking for diversity. What I mean by that is, finding minorities for example is going to be difficult in places like San Francisco versus Atlanta or Detroit. The first few years of the conference, in my opinion, made little to no effort to actually promote and solve diversity issues….BUT….with their 2017 lineup including Miami, Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago, and more, I can honestly say that my opinion has improved significantly.
There first visit to Detroit was not solution based per say but it is a great first start. I was introduced to alot of opportunities and people there I would not have otherwise known about. The fact that it was so close to Detroit Start Up Week was a great move as well and has me making plans to attend the event as I type this. Improving diversity statistics starts with raising awareness and the conference did just that.
On the downside, there were a few missing pieces I noticed very quickly. The conference should probably employ a “City Expert” or something to help navigate the overall conversation. Now that they’re visiting so many different cities, the tech community will be different in each one and there needs to be someone there that understands that. In addition (and this is overall criticism not just geared at Tech Inclusion) there needs to be some sort of action plan that we’re all aware of. Outside of city visits, what is Tech Inclusions specific goals for the event? Are they looking to improve women in venture capital by 30% by 2020 for example? Some type of “this is what we’re trying to do and this is why we need your support” goes a long way. But again, this is their first time going national, so I can’t be too hard on them. Again raising awareness comes first, and then those type of plans can be made.
My final grade for Tech Inclusion would be that it was a good experience that has the potential to revolutionize the industry if handled correctly!