Here’s How to Solve the Diversity Problem at Your Company
“The best way to get more women into tech is to get more women into tech.” — Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.
I kicked off the month of March hanging out with roughly 5,000 lesbians and allies from all over the world who descended upon San Francisco’s Castro District for the annual Lesbians Who Tech (LWT) Conference.
The conference tagline does a good job of summing up the atmosphere of the event: It’s queer, it’s inclusive (no, you do not need to be a lesbian or a woman to attend), and it’s badass.
With more than 150 speakers ranging from Megan Smith (former CTO of the USA) to Kara Swisher (Executive Editor of ReCode), to Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), the conference covered critical issues facing the tech sector and the country as a whole. Not only women’s issues, but also things like gun control and net neutrality.
Most importantly, the conference gave its attendees access to some of the brightest minds in tech so that they could nerd out on things like AI, IoT, and Blockchain, much to the chagrin of ex-Google engineer James Damore.
Although there was an energy, camaraderie, and strength that was palpable among the attendees, there was no confusion about the fact that there’s a lot of work to be done before minority groups can count themselves as equals within the tech community and society as a whole.
The tech sector has faced widespread criticism lately for its lack of diversity, and for good reason. Silicon Valley Bank’s Startup Outlook 2018 report stated that 57 percent of US tech startups report that they have NO women in their C-Suite. 71 percent have NO women on their boards. These numbers are the WORST they have been since 2015, when those same stats were 53 percent and 68 percent, respectively.
So, how do we change this? How do we get more lesbians, women, and other minority groups into tech? Here are five ideas that I took away from the LWT conference:
1. Use technology to take discrimination out of the picture.
Pamela Rice, Head of Technology Strategy & Innovation Labs Engineering at Capital One, spoke about the opportunity to leverage technology to limit the ability of unconscious and conscious biases to cloud our judgments.
Rice’s talk reminded me of Social Capital, which launched a data-focused investment platform in late 2017. By leveraging this platform, the VC firm was able to make decisions on which startups to invest in while allowing founders to forgo the traditional investor pitch. As reported in Fortune, the result of this data-focused approach was that 42 percent of the CEOs who received funding were females.
Compare this to the fact that in 2016, only two percent of VC funding went to female founders. In response to this outcome, Fortune reported that Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya called the 42 percent data point “simply f@#%ing awesome.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
2. Bring compensation into the picture.
During her address, Bozoma Saint John, Uber’s Chief Branding Officer, stated that diversity metrics should affect people’s bonuses. If you’re responsible for hiring or managing a certain group, part of your goals should include creating and supporting a diverse employee base. If you can’t do this, it should affect how you’re paid.
3. Set a quota.
Guess what? Diversity is a problem, even for minority groups. To fight this, Leanne Pittsford, creator of LWT, has enforced a quota system for the conference since its early days. Her quota requires 50 percent of the speakers to be women of color and 10 percent to be transgender or non-binary. “Ever since we’ve had a quota, we’ve hit it and used data to track it,” Pittsford recently told NBC. “I can 100 percent tell you that we would have never done that without the quota or without the urgency.”
4. Treat your male employees the same as your female employees.
Speaking about the #metoo movement, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, noted that it’s not enough to not harass women, we need to give women equal rights.
She stated that almost half of male managers are afraid to get dinner or hold a 1:1 business meeting with a female employee. This means that women are missing out on these critical mentoring opportunities. The solution? Sandberg argues that managers need to keep it equal.
Invest in your female employees the same as your male employees. She even quipped — “If you’re afraid to get dinner with a female employee, then don’t get dinner with a male employee.”
5. Attend this conference.
The best way to become more inclusive is to learn more about those who are different than you. LWT is not a white male-bashing conference; it’s about being inclusive and supporting one another.
I promise that after spending two days surrounded by this crowd of smart, confident, and fun lesbians, you’ll leave with love and understanding for this minority group…and you’ll want to hire them! I know that I did.