There’s something to be said about the power and nature of diversity in an industry. It’s easy to generalize an entire group or demographic, but a lot of times, that’s how things naturally work out. For instance, the tech industry is primarily dominated by white males with a toxic masculinity behind their decisions and actions. This leads to the question of whether or not the startups and tech appearing in said industry are largely driven by these influential leaders. Would a female or African-American leader come up with a completely different type of device or platform, for instance?
More important to the systemic operation of the industry is how diverse individuals are treated and welcomed into the space. There are multitudes of stories and tales of sexual harassment, abuse and even neglect by influential professionals in the tech world. There are far-reaching implications for anyone working in the industry regarding these problems, but there’s another aspect of it all — though not necessarily one you may expect.
Future Technology Is Affected
Not too long ago, Microsoft launched an AI chatbot named Tay that was tasked with updating and sending out random tweets on a schedule. The Twitter bot was ultimately meant to be an experiment in “conversational understanding” to see how AI systems might interact with real humans in a social space.
Sadly, it didn’t take long for a bunch of jerks to start messing with the AI’s operation. In less than a day, it began tweeting and sending out misogynistic, racist and vulgar updates on a regular basis.
You could effectively blame this on the entire Twitter community as a whole, as it was more than just one group or demographic weighing in and teaching the AI bot these terms. However, it highlights a serious problem the tech world has, even at a consumer level. Many have adopted a “bros first” attitude that is disgusting and unwarranted.
This bleeds into the future technology that we will one day be working alongside. In the case of Microsoft’s Tay, it was just an experiment gone wrong, but what if driverless vehicle systems become rampant with the same sentiments and problems?
It does seem a bit dystopic to think of currently, but it’s certainly a direction we may be headed. That is, unless of course, we can solve Silicon Valley’s diversity problem by introducing more minorities into the world.
Easier Said Than Done
It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and shout about diversity from the outside, but actually making the change is a different story. This is especially true when the industry is plagued with misogynistic attitudes and environments.
This lack of diversity stifles and silences a critical element of the human talent pool. Multiple voices, talents, experiences, and opinions are necessary for the forward-advancement of innovation, especially in today’s information economy. Unfortunately, many who could prove influential to our future are being drowned out; simply because the tech world has a serious aversion to diversity — and companies are worse off when they’re lacking a diverse portfolio.
According to McKinsey, earnings before interest and taxes increase by 0.8 percent for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on a senior-executive team. Intel and Dalberg found that the tech industry could generate an additional $300 to $370 billion per year if the racial and ethnic diversity of tech companies simply reflected the talent pool.
Some believe that STEM jobs are the root cause, with the workforce currently expanding well beyond the resources we have available. Estimates put this year’s STEM workforce somewhere in the vicinity of 8,600,000. This growth means companies are struggling to fill positions, which calls for the importing of talent and professionals. It may also contribute to higher diversity issues, simply because fewer minorities are working in the industry already.
What’s the Solution?
According to the EEOC, fewer than one percent of Silicon Valley executives and management personnel are black. That is alarmingly low, but it shows the need for more diversity in the industry — not just in lower, working positions, but across the entire board.
To make matters worse, people of color entering the tech industry are 3.5 times more likely to leave the field than white men. This is a direct result of a systemic racial bias that plagues the entire industry. In fact, many people of color have reported isolation, toxic environments, racial attitudes and pure discrimination from colleagues and managers. They are also generally promoted and paid less than their white counterparts. This severe discrimination extends to the female population as well.
The only way to make a change — and one that’s as far-reaching as necessary — is to come up with a system that can both track and identify these problems. More importantly, it’s time to begin holding tech companies, management and executive teams expressly accountable for these issues. A change needs to start somewhere, and it should be up near the top, which will eventually trickle down to the lesser positions.
More advanced and more diverse policies should be adopted, particularly those that protect people of color, women, and minorities from the kind of abuse and neglect they are experiencing in the industry. If something doesn’t happen soon, the future will certainly be worse off. We need to come together as a community and as a nation to solve this issue, by eliminating the source as best as possible. To start, that means coming up with more opportunities and support channels for those already in the industry and those who are looking to enter and get involved.