After college I was an aspiring Mortician who took a chance and entered a corporate coding bootcamp. I learned to program in seven languages in 13-weeks and emerged as a mainframe programmer. That decision to venture into technology changed the trajectory of my life. However I was often the only woman and African-American at the table. The lack of women and people of color in technology is not new, however we can’t keep doing the same things we’ve always done and expect a different result. Unfortunately as we try to bridge the gender and racial gap in technology, the people we are targeting are missing from the tech inclusion discussion. There’s no need to continue “guessing” what we think. Simply cut out the middle man, invite us to the decision making table and we can tell you in real time. We have real experiences and can offer real solutions. A major example of being deliberate and thinking outside the box is the partnership between Google and Howard University to set up a satellite campus at Google’s headquarters in an effort to bring more African American computer science students into the tech industry. This is a perfect example of Diversity and Inclusion at work!
As statistics are looming about the lack of tech talent to fill jobs by 2020, diversity has become a buzzword in corporations and bootcamps are popping up everywhere. Having served as a Chief Diversity Officer for many years, I definitely understand first hand that unless Diversity and Inclusion initiatives are formulated by a group diverse in thought, race, gender, experience, etc., the strategy will more than likely fail. All too often during these conversations, everyone around the table looks the same, comes from the same background and thinks the same. This can even happen within a diverse group, which is why intentional inclusion is so very important.
Unfortunately there is no one there to speak from a different perspective, initiate the uncomfortable conversations, or question the status quo. Left unchecked, organizations will continue to formulate and believe the excuse, “We tried to hire diverse candidates, however we just couldn’t find qualified women or people of color to fill the positions”. On that I call “Bull!”
Another trend is the number of bootcamps popping up targeting the underrepresented and untapped communities. Many bootcamps are receiving financial incentives in grants and other funds to fill their seats with people of color and women. While there are some that are doing a tremendous job, there are still questions that should be asked. Who is at the table to ask the questions and foster an environment of accountability? A few questions that jump in my mind are: How many women and people of color apply to the bootcamp? How many are actually interviewed? Most importantly how many are accepted? Out of those not accepted or interviewed, what’s the reason? If you claim you are providing jobs, how many are truly placed in “tech jobs”? How many don’t complete the camp, and why? This is not an indictment, however you can spin a story, but the data does not lie and the results can foster a robust and much needed conversation about next steps.
If you represent an organization or a boot camp and you are really serious about Diversity and Inclusion in Technology, its up to you ensure that your organization is intentional about inviting a diverse group of people into the conversation. If you find that the target audience is absent from the table, speak up. If you are a person of color or woman and have a seat at the table, and are afraid to speak up (it’s OK – there’s no judgement) I ask that you consider giving up your seat to someone who is willing to be the voice of those who are not being heard.
My greatest fear is to “say nothing” and hear people making excuses in the year 2020 about how they tried to engage people of color or give us an opportunity, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out. No matter your race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, etc. Diversity and Inclusion is about EVERYONE feeling valued, supported and respected.
If you’re contemplating bridging the gap in Diversity and Inclusion in Technology, are you willing to do something different? If you feel stuck or want to continue the conversation…Let’s talk!Marlin Williams Diversity and Inclusion Strategist Founder, Sisters Code firstname.lastname@example.org 313-575-4078