Diversity in Tech: Part I

November 6, 2018

In recent years, a movement has arisen: Diversity in Technology. Memos have been sent at high-profile companies. Movies such as Hidden Figures and The Imitation Game have shown a popular spotlight on technology contributions by minority individuals from the past. Industry conferences have been organized to discuss its importance and to coordinate diversity statistics.

Despite the movement, countless reports have shown that major technology companies continue to preferentially employ certain majority groups over minorities. This stagnation shows a need to continue initiatives going forward. Discussing diversity goes beyond pandering to political ideologies: scientific studies have proven its necessity. From creators to consumers, diversity benefits everyone.

What is Diversity in Tech?

Diversity in Tech refers to a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce comprised of individuals from a range of backgrounds. These backgrounds most often refer to gender, race or ethnicity, but they can include many different sociocultural categorizations: sexuality, socioeconomic status, nationality, educational backgrounds and skills, etc.

These identities tend to come with specific cultural skills, socialized strengths and other contributions that differ from the current majority STEM workforce. For example, most women take fewer risks than most men which makes them ideal for risk-averse positions, such as cybersecurity. However, women comprise less than a third of the cybersecurity workforce.

The term diversity is often attacked due to its political associations; however, it is an apolitical movement backed by scientific findings that show diverse workforces to be more productive and innovative than companies that prioritize a narrow employee view. Apart from peer-reviewed studies showing these results, business leaders are finding it true from personal experience: in October 2018, Ellevest CEO and renowned capitalist Sallie Krawcheck wrote about the value diversity brings to corporations.

This conversation is not, however, an attack on anyone. Rather, it is about moving forward. It is not “you’re bad,” but “how did we wind up in this position? What can we do to change it?” The conversation tackles everything from wage gaps to pipeline issues to prevent a crippling of information economies.

Why is Diversity in Tech good?

There are three main reasons that diversity specifically helps the technology sector: creativity, bottom line and workforce availability.

Although creativity is an intangible quality, it is directly related to innovation and therefore related to product releases. Both private and public sector entities require creativity from their employees to keep up with the relentless technology cycle to capture markets and solve pressing issues. It is no mistake that the most innovative (and profitable) institutions, such as Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), are known for teams that represent multiple nationalities, genders and other identities.

One of the primary factors about diversity correlating with creativity is cognitive diversity. Essentially, people from different backgrounds think differently, which means development can draw from many perspectives. The resulting variety ensures that something is examined critically through multiple lenses. Consequentially, the creative process results in something attractive to a wider audience.

Better diversity benefits more than intangibles though: it has a huge effect on the bottom line. According to a gender diversity study by Columbia Business School and University of Maryland, the value of S&P 500 firms increased by $42 million when they hired more women. These results remain consistently true across diversity studies evaluating many different factors beyond gender.

The most urgent pressures on increasing diversity are the looming and current technology workforce gaps. In 2014, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the STEM workforce would be at 8.65 million people by 2018. It’s on track for a predicted growth rate of 24% between 2014 and 2024, an explosive increase. At some point, essential technology fields such as engineering, cybersecurity and computer science will need employees desperately. Some, like cybersecurity, already face a shortage of 300 thousand skilled workers.

However, there just aren’t enough “more of the same” people to continually hire. This is especially evident in college major statistics: only 18% of women are studying engineering, even though more women are in college than men, and less than 10% of Hispanics and black individuals pursue engineering majors. Unless more minorities and people from atypical STEM backgrounds receive the incentives they need to pursue those fields — and in turn those industries become more inclusive — there won’t be enough people to fill those jobs.

What’s Next for Diversity in Tech?

Despite the activity and constant “noise about it,” not much has changed when it comes to increasing diversity in tech. It takes personal initiative and corporate responsibility. As Sallie Krawcheck said, “we just have to do it.”

Read our next blog in this diversity series to hear more about those entities prioritizing diversity and how the system is changing. We’ll be discussing “who needs diversity in tech?” and “how do we increase diversity in tech?” Keep an eye out for mentions of some our favorite people in tech who broke the mold and have made our world today better.

Sealevel remains committed to equal opportunity employment and believes in a future when anyone can be a maker, mover and shaker.