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Missteps and Myths About Diversity in the Technology Industry

Photo: Courtesy of Roozbeh Eslami

Snapshot: Women’s representation in computing jobs today hovers at around 20 percent, after having reached its all-time zenith in the mid-1980s at almost 40 percent. Looking at women in leadership roles, it is even less. And, if applying an intersectional lens, black and Latina women are in the single digits.

The tech industry has struggled and failed to bring those numbers back up for 30 years. Part of the problem is that the side business of diversity and inclusion is mired with misapprehensions and myths about how to solve, or even define, the challenge of women’s underrepresentation. Let social science shine some much needed light on the issue, replacing deceptive nonsense with research-based approaches and tips. This is how to set the stage for success, and sustain it, for years to come.

Not a minority issue

Minority groups are not broken. They do not need or want to be “fixed.” Women’s “confidence training,” “leaning in,” or having more “executive presence” is not the answer. Why? Because the problem is not women or other minorities in tech. The problem is the culture.

Pro-tip: Focus on cultural changes that foster diverse voices. For example, ensure the responsibility to intervene when someone is being interrupted, shut down, or not getting credit is shared by everyone during team meetings.  

End the blame-game

Majority groups (men) are not the enemy. In our society, we all share harmful unconscious biases that shape our culture. With culture being the problem, any solution demands participation from majority groups equal to, if not more than, minority groups.

Pro-tip: Increasing male advocacy can start with recreating “temporary” minority experiences for men, like having them attend majority female conferences or workshops. Then, follow up with targeted strategies to engage them back at the home office. 

It’s not about lowering standards

Meritocracy is a myth. Research shows that subtle biases strongly affect who we see as the best. Seeking diversity in hiring and promotions is actually about raising standards by mitigating those biases and unlocking overlooked talent.

Pro tip: To find and attract the best candidates, start by casting a wider net for sourcing, and then examine job ad language for bias, stereotypically masculine or feminine characteristics, and a dozen other research-based pitfalls. Follow up by likewise examining the rest of the hiring process and change the culture for hiring.

Changing environments and fixing systems, instead of people, implies redefining success in diversity and inclusion efforts — and it is where most D&I efforts fall down. It is not about providing more trainings or programs. Inclusive culture construction requires social science-savvy leaders employing multi-pronged strategic change efforts across the spectrum of workplace processes, norms, and values.

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