The Truth About Diversity Initiatives in Tech

April 15, 2016

9:59 am

Diversity – a single word that has caused enough fear and disruption within the tech and startup world over the last few years. But what does it really mean? With so much confusion on the specifics of the word (does it mean better representation? Equity amongst various identities? More 101 Workshops to explain the basics?), it’s easy to see how the well-intentioned origins of the word could get lost beyond marginalized groups. But it’s time that we got serious about diversity – and shift how we apply it to change the current tech landscape.

What’s Wrong with Diversity, Anyway?

While diversity has good intentions, it’s been too badly misapplied by well-meaning allies. For many, diversity equates equal representation with race and gender. Sadly, this leaves out a vast majority of identities. Along with that, racial and gender equality are still at record lows within the tech and startup industry.

Tech workers who identify with some kind of marginalized identity still report massive amounts of microaggressions, violence, massive underreporting and following protocol when situations call for holding other workers accountable. These can be seen in the likes of Microsoft’s tradition of conventional sexism to massive amounts of marginalized workers leaving various large-name companies or the industry altogether.

So, what gives? Even with diversity initiatives on the rise, they actually provide little to no support for incorporating the concerns of marginalized workers. Instead of taking their experiences and concerns to heart, the burden of changing an entire system – one that is built on their labor and discomfort, no doubt – is placed on their backs. Instead, we must understand that diversity is the responsibility of all, but especially those who do not live the marginalized experience.

The Future of Tech and Diversity

In order for diversity to truly be integrated into the culture, we have to go beyond the surface. Conversations that linger on the surface of “what is diversity?” doesn’t solve any issues if it fails to venture beyond that. Instead, we have to apply problem-solving skills: what are tangible, physical solutions that can take place to increase awareness about diversity? It’s also paramount that marginalized workers, when they are involved, are not relegated to roles that continue to serve the culture’s obsession with “diversity 101”. It’s key that we allow them into roles where leadership and their applicability to the industry as a whole is rendered valuable, not just filling a quota.

Don’t get me wrong – diversity is a valuable, valid goal to incorporate more fully into the tech and startup world. But we are doing ourselves a massive disservice if we allow ourselves to stay simply at the level of introductions. It’s far time we move past that, and allow diversity to be the action that we take towards creating a more inclusive tech culture, and not being content with skimming the surface.

Image via Flickr / wocintechchat

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Cameron is a tech and culture journalist, comic book enthusiast, and lives near New York City. A graduate of Stockton University, she's using her words to shift the world of online journalism, one byline at a time. When she's not writing, she can be found reading sci-fi novels, collecting succulents, and planning her next obnoxious hair color. Cameron is an editorial fellow at Tech.Co. Send your tips to cameron@tech.co or tweet @BlkGirlManifest.

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