We All Belong in Tech

Tech takes all types, yet it has a well-documented diversity problem. Though successful tactics are starting to emerge, systemic solutions are still very complicated.

When it comes to reversing the trend, most organizations don’t know where to start. More HR teams are stepping up to the challenge, but there is still a talent pool to fill, and an organization’s culture to fix. This a big opportunity for the tech community-at-large to help be part of the solution.

Tech Has a Branding Problem

Not all jobs in the tech industry are technical. Jobs in traditionally non-tech industries can often be highly technical.

Everyone has a computer in their pocket, but very few are willing to self-assign as working in tech. Why are so many people so quick to say “I’m not in tech”?

Today, all companies are tech companies.

Culture Matters

It is hard enough work to attract diverse candidates, but it isn’t sustainable if you can’t keep them. Will your new recruits stay and thrive in your community?

Hiring someone because they are a minority only fulfills a short-term goal. We tend to equate identity with experience, but they are not the same thing. In order to attract diverse standpoints, your organization’s culture should feel comfortable to a wide variety of different personalities.

Asking teams how many female engineers they have might make them uncomfortable, but it can be very telling to see how they respond to the question. How do they acknowledge the disparity?

Creating a Culture of Inclusion

At the end of the day, people want to be valued. They want to be a real and necessary part of team. They want to be included, valued, and challenged.

Feeling Valued

Acknowledge your community members often. Go out of the way to say hello. Introduce them to others who share their interests.

Learn how to identify leadership characteristics. Help your members find ways to get involved. Giving back and co-creation provide a sense of acceptance and accomplishment.

This same idea translates into the digital space. Follow, like, and share with your community online to continue building value between gatherings.

Building Trust

Be authentic. Use supportive language, and invite them to share with you by asking them about themselves. Following your members online can make it easier to remember names and pertinent details, which is important to making someone feel like they belong.

Be aware that everyone has different physical space requirements. Learn to read nonverbal cues, and train other community leaders as well. Meet in spaces that are open with a variety of seating options. Find a space where the acoustics allow for discussion without straining to speak or hear.

Building trust in your community builds loyalty.

Have a Plan

Does your community have a code of conduct or an anti-discrimination stance? Is there a plan for how leadership will respond to behavior by a member that could jeopardize the organization and its values? Do members have a clear path to report an incident? How will leadership respond?

Last fall, Airbnb aimed to set a high bar in a controversial, very public approach. Without this policy, the culture of Airbnb community was taking shape through the news. The new policy, deemed “strict” by one side and “not enough” by the other, gave Airbnb back control of the narrative regarding their community values.

Companies and Community Organizations,

Have a diversity strategy. Make it a core value. Talk about it with your leadership team.

#EugeneTech puts this strategy to use right on their homepage.

BUILDING AND PROMOTING AN OPEN AND INCLUSIVE TECH COMMUNITY.

“‘All companies are tech companies’ has been a saying for years,” said Mark E. Davis, co-founder of #EugeneTech. The organization of volunteers helps promote all tech-related events and news in the greater Eugene/Springfield area.

Maybe its time to revisit the mission statement for your organization. If you aren’t proud enough to share it with your members as well as the public, it deserves your attention.

We Are the Stewards of Tech Culture

It is rare that we instinctively know what to say when someone in our community is made to feel uncomfortable by another person’s behavior. Reacting too harshly could alienate the opportunity to create a transformational moment. Not reacting at all leaves the problem unaddressed, to be experienced again by our colleagues and friends, not to mention the future versions of ourselves.

It’s time to stop making excuses, and start talking about solutions. We can always look back and wish we could have handled a situation differently, but we should be learning from those mistakes and teaching each other to be the stewards of tech culture.

Talk About it in Your Community

Are organizations in your area using appropriate language and creating policies that support inclusion? Ask your community leaders about it. We’d love to hear about what you find.

If you’d like to host a similar discussion in your community, get in touch. Redefining Women in Tech has some resources we can share. We recently hosted a Community Sessions event in Eugene, Oregon, which featured group discussions on topics like these.

If we are going to redefine tech culture to be one of inclusion, we need to make conversations like this a priority in our communities.

Let’s make tech a place where we all feel like we belong.


This post was originally published in the Mindbox Journal.

Lauren Jerome is the co-founder of an innovative software studio, as well as a community organization working to make tech careers more accessible to a broader audience. She lives in Eugene, Oregon and works from anywhere with a decent signal. Follow her on Twitter and explore more of her work on Medium.

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