Diversity in tech is a highly emotional, highly complex issue. My research suggests we need to reframe the issue to make it easier to discuss. Understanding biases as not anyone’s fault helped the participants in our study become advocates for reform in the tech industry.
We interviewed male software engineers in one Silicon Valley company with about 1700 employees. The engineers who would talk about the problem of diversity in their industry raised common themes of problematic corporate cultures – and a fear of going against those publicly.
But research shows that women are being driven out of the industry due to a lack of opportunities or mentoring, pay inequity or hostile colleagues. Many women leave to start their own companies.
The hostile environment in the tech industry not only has negative impacts on the women themselves, but companies are also missing out. Studies show that more diverse teams are more productive and innovative.
Our participants feared being labelled soft and being excluded by male peers. Male camaraderie and solidarity were important among all of our participants.
Researchers have shown that even when our biases are pointed out, half of us will cling to our long-held perceptions. We intuitively feel our perceptions to be accurate and no amount of training will shake our faith.
Built into our cognitive neural paths, our unconscious thinking and our use of language reinforce our biases.
Some of our participants suggested that we “lighten up”‘ in our diversity training.
Though it is a serious topic, when possible use humour. Drama and role play has worked in workshops I’ve attended.
But there is no silver bullet, and no one-size-training-fits-all approach to increasing diversity in the tech industry. There is also very little research on the problem from a male point of view. This means we are largely missing the perspective of one side of the equation.
Companies should listen to both male and female employees on this issue and pay attention to any backlash. For some, diversity and inclusion will be a bitter pill and we must listen to those who resist, but it is imperative that we find ways to assist those men who are advocates for diversity.
Men must overcome their fear of publicly supporting change. We must sell the economic and innovative value of diverse corporations and we must put policies in place to support those changes. Without diversifying our talent pool, how will corporations grow technical talent?
- ^ declining female participation (www.aauw.org)
- ^ sexual harassment (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ ongoing research (roanokeresearch.wordpress.com)
- ^ More women are becoming game developers, but there's a long way to go (theconversation.com)
- ^ has dropped (www.aauw.org)
- ^ stereotype (web.archive.org)
- ^ research shows (www.aauw.org)
- ^ Many women (www.aauw.org)
- ^ Studies (www.tandfonline.com)
- ^ innovative (www.tandfonline.com)
- ^ poor behaviour among their male colleagues (www.businessinsider.com.au)
- ^ even their jobs (www.theverge.com)
- ^ seems to be failing (time.com)
- ^ Gender inequality is alive and kicking in technology (theconversation.com)
- ^ Researchers (www.hup.harvard.edu)
- ^ unconscious thinking and our use of language reinforce our biases (scholar.harvard.edu)
- ^ has pointed out (books.google.com.au)
Authors: Patricia Baum Salgado, Fellow at the Institute for Social Innovation, Fielding Graduate University