To all women in Tech: Think Beyond Gender

How can we champion diversity when we ourselves do not live it?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend SheSays Denver’s SheSummits conference for women working in the “digital UX, design, technology, media and marketing” space. It was an event to celebrate women in tech while finding inspiration and learning best practices from leading practitioners in the digital field.

From the moment I walked in, the room was buzzing with excitement. I myself was eager to learn from badass women in the field. I could feel the energy and couldn’t help but smile as I looked across the sea of bright, shining faces…

Until I realized that most of those faces were white.

But I sat down and told myself, there’s no way you could have scanned the entire crowd. There’s got to be more diversity than what you just saw.

Shortly after, the conference began and the host of the event introduced the staff and board of SheSays Denver. And as the last woman came forward and lined the stage, my jaw dropped.

Every single woman on that stage was a young, white woman.

Now, I don’t bring up race or age to undermine the importance of what SheSummits did. SheSummits brought together an impressive crowd of women in Denver’s tech space, with wonderful industry leaders speaking on each panel. It was inspiring and uplifting and empowering.

But my question is: how can we champion the importance of diversity and having women in the workforce if we ourselves do not also champion other facets of diversity?

What about socioeconomic status? What about industry? What about race? What about sexual orientation? What about religion? What about ethnicity? What about the billions of other factors that make up ‘diversity’?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Denver’s racial demographics as of July 1, 2015 are:

  • White alone: 80.8%
  • Black or African American alone: 10.1%
  • American Indian and Alaska Native alone: 1.9%
  • Asian alone: 3.9%
  • Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone: 0.2%
  • Two or More races: 3.1%

Additionally, 30.5% of the population reported their origin as Hispanic or Latino of any race. *Note: Origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States. People who identify their origin as Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino may be of any race. Thus, the percent Hispanic should not be added to percentages for racial categories. (Source: US Census Bureau)

Which means in a room of 100 people, there should have been about:

  • 81 White females
  • 10 Black females
  • 4 Asian females
  • 2 American Indian or Alaska Native females
  • 0–1 Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander females
  • 3 females of mixed race

And approximately 30 or so of these women should have also identified their origin as Hispanic or Latino.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe this was the case, both within the conference attendees, the SheSays Denver board, or the SheSummits speakers.

Which leads me to the question, how can we ensure that the events we put on for women in tech are diverse and inclusive of all races, ages, and socioeconomic statuses?

I definitely don’t have the answer to this. But a couple days ago, I read an article by Jessi Hempel and The Backchannel Team on Advice to Melinda Gates regarding women in tech. One paragraph really resonated with me:

First off, please keep in mind the interconnections between race, class, and gender. “We can’t just focus on women without specific interventions for women of color — otherwise you’ll find that you’re only benefiting privileged white women, which is not the diversity that we’re looking for in tech,” says freada kapor klein.
Also, tech is not just a career choice for the young, There are many mid-career women who would like to learn new skills and find their way into tech jobs.

Our world is an incredibly diverse place.

Diversity is the engine of invention. It drives the creativity that can enrich the world. When we have multiple perspectives coming together as one, we drive the dialogue, the ingenuity, and the innovation so much further.

So diversity isn’t just a “nice to have”. It’s a necessity.

So what next?

I challenge SheSays Denver and Women Who Code and Lesbians Who Tech and Girl Develop It and all the other companies or organizations out there who work to increase diversity in the tech space to think about diversity as multi-faceted.

We can’t think about diversity as ONLY gender, or ONLY race, or ONLY sexual orientation, or ONLY anything.

We have to think about all the intersections. We have to talk about that. We have to act upon that. And we have to involve as many people as possible.

The next time there is a gathering of women in tech…

I challenge speakers to not only talk about their jobs and best practices, but also to include race, age, industry, career path — anything that helps attendees to learn something new and to identify with a speaker’s many other identities beyond “I’m a female”.

I challenge organizations to reach out to different neighborhoods, different companies, different industries, and different clubs to invite a more diverse attendee crowd and more diverse panel of speakers to come together and share their experiences.

I challenge events to provide a compelling, inclusive, and educational experiences that bring new ideas and new insights to the table. While SheSays Denver brought together so many bright, inspiring women together, it fell short of creating an inclusive space for dialogue about the importance of diversity within tech.

And finally, I challenge myself to be a more outspoken advocate for diversity in tech within the Denver community. I challenge myself to become more involved with all these awesome organizations. I challenge myself to be more inclusive in my conversations.

It’s not just “I want to see more different looking faces” — it’s “I want to know what women who don’t look like me are experiencing, because it might be different from my own experiences.”
— Kristen Grace, @muddleandjoy

I hope that the next time I attend a “Women in Tech” event in Denver, it will embrace all the facets of diversity with open arms. I hope that it will be much more representative of the rich diversity we have in this city, from the audience members to the panelists. And I hope that this article will be old news, irrelevant, and a thing of the past.