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This past week’s Tech Inclusion conference in San Francisco was not your typical tech event. The audience included engineers, entrepreneurs, policymakers and community activists who were far more representative of the diversity of the Bay Area - and the rest of the country, too. The speakers didn’t shy from pointing out serious flaws in the very industry in which they work. An Oakland food startup employing local youth catered the lunches. And a “Mommy Pod”—an RV outfitted for breastfeeding mothers—was stationed just outside the entrance.
Where’s the diversity in tech? It all showed up last week at Tech Inclusion, a conference where speakers and attendees discussed the major challenges to improving the makeup of tech, but also the potential and the widespread commitment to doing better. From rethinking recruiting, to repurposing federal education grants, to envisioning tech as a platform for social justice, ideas big and small were all debated with both energy and a kind honesty not always heard at Silicon Valley meetups. The conversations between panels and during networking sessions were frank and authentic: Speaker Julia Nguyen quite accurately said, "when you don't talk about something it perpetuates ignorance." Congresswoman Barbara Lee's speech was empowering and direct.
For a full rundown of conference speakers and topics, visit Techinclusion.co or check out the recorded event on YouTube. While we can’t chronicle all the motivating conversations we had and tell you about all the inspiring people we met, here’s a few things we took away:
Demand Transparency - We can’t address the problem if we don’t understand the scope of it. A growing number of technology companies are making their employee diversity data public. Most recently, the fast-growing startup Slack announced its numbers. We applaud this initiative and hope it continues to gain momentum with more companies releasing data. But we also need to see more categories of data released. As one conference-goer noted, we have no idea how many people with disabilities are working in the tech industry. They represent a workforce that’s massively underemployed despite the skills they have to offer. And we’re just starting to talk about veterans too
Look to Role Models - Many tech companies are actively addressing the lack of diverse employees in their ranks, some by hiring an employee whose role it is to oversee all aspects of making their company more inclusive. The directors and leaders of diversity efforts at Pinterest, Yelp, Twitter, and Thoughtworks all shared their ideas for recruiting a broader range of talent and also ensuring these new employees stick around and grow their careers. For some, recruiting at historically black colleges and universities is a new focus. And nearly every company of substantial size has employee resource groups (ERGs) for workers to consistently discuss and address making the workplace more welcoming.
Invest in the Pipeline - The importance of the talent pipeline cannot be underestimated. While it won’t help the industry embrace a more diverse employee pool right away, investing in education now will ensure our next generation of engineers and entrepreneurs come from a wider set of backgrounds, (and that there are more of them with the skills to power our innovation economy.) The Department of Labor has estimated over 1.3 million new tech jobs will open by 2022. This presents a massive opportunity for communities that have been historically excluded from tech and dozens of community organizations, governments and educational institutions are working to bring them into the fold. These efforts—from neighborhood programs like Hack the Hood to national movements like Girls Who Code—must be supported, scaled and expanded.
Build Coalitions - Witnessing so many connections being made over shared values and complementary efforts was one of the best parts of attending this conference. We sensed new partnerships and collaborations forming by the minute. Coalitions based on shared goals - especially goals as big as overhauling the makeup of a fast-moving, fast-growing industry - are critical. They allow us to share resources and ideas, amplify our message and expand our reach.
Advocate for Policy Change - As a policy organization, we can’t overlook the impact that can be achieved when policymakers heed our calls for action. The conference highlighted several leading examples when government has been a powerful tool, including a local ballot initiative to fund job-based education programs in Oakland and the White House’s tech hire initiative. Engine also led a policy workshop, “Achieving Inclusion Through Policy and Advocacy” where attendees developed their own policy action plans that included reforming community block grants to fund diverse entrepreneurs and requiring the IRS to tax corporations based on their gender pay gap. And we’ve invited anyone who wants to continue this conversation to joins us at engine.is/diversity.
Policymakers are just beginning to engage with our wider tech community to understand how to propel tech-based entrepreneurship and, most importantly, ensure more of our country participates. At Engine, we work every day to push policymakers to support inclusive forms of technology innovation and entrepreneurship.
Over the past year, we’ve been part of conversations with policymakers as well as community organizations and industry leaders about the future of the tech sector. Tech Inclusion was a powerful convergence of the many disparate efforts we’ve seen. Like us, we hope the other attendees found new fuel, new partners, and new avenues for pursuing change last week. And if you’d like to join our efforts, visit us at engine.is/get-involved.