“Tech Doesn’t Have to Be A Sea of White Guys” (if we help)

Melinda Gates had an amazing presentation @ the Grace Hooper Celebration last week in Orlando. Sadly I wasn’t there but this quote resonated with me:

Tech doesn’t have to be a sea of white guys!

A couple of weeks ago I came across a new FinTech company that just launched. When I looked at the team and board sections of their website, I saw a bunch of middle aged white dudes. Much to my chagrin there wasn’t a single woman on the leadership team. My immediate reaction was to try and claim naming & shaming rights on social media. Quickly my brain started considering the most witty ways I could call attention to the situation, which is an all to frequent and generally unhelpful response to perceived injustices in the current day and age. Thankfully, on that day the more rational voice in my head prevailed.

I find it fascinating that over the past few years a small number of companies have done an amazing job conditioning us that the automatic and acceptable response to any issue should start on a social media platform. Over millions of years humans have evolved higher order functions, yet despite (or perhaps in spite of) that fact, at a base level we truly crave the immediate gratification that comes with a Like, Share, Comment, etc. Increasingly though, I’m not sure that should be our default response in situations like this.

So instead of naming and shaming the company, which would have put the management team on the defensive, I shot their CEO an email, pointed out the concerns and offered to make some intros to a few exceptional women who would be well suited to Board and Engineering positions. To the company’s credit, instead of ignoring the issue they had their Head of PeopleOps reach out and I am making a few key introductions. Not sure if they’ll go with anyone I recommend…but ultimately that’s not what matters. What’s important, when situations like this arise, is advocating for a more civil and constructive discourse around solutions.

Time and again, I have been impressed by the willingness of people to take on board constructive feedback like this. I have lost track of the times that I have highlighted the lack of diversity on a conference panel; virtually everytime it is highlighted the immediate question is can you recommend someone. I’ve said previously, people genuinely want to do the right thing when an issue is identified, and these episodes further validate that assumption.

I can’t change the world, but I can try to change the pieces of it that I touch everyday. In the current day and age when everyone wants to be first to claim credit for breaking “the story”, perhaps the very first response should be to ask yourself “is there something I can do to make the situation better?” If not, then and only then, perhaps the right answer is publicly shining a light on the issue.