I believe there is definitely a problem with diversity in the tech industry. I also understand, however, that it is a difficult problem to address. There are multiple causes for these problems. In regard to the lack of women in tech the greatest problem is the male-dominated environment in tech companies. This creates a very hostile environment towards women in tech that may dissuade them from pursuing such a career. Certainly, not only are the numbers of women in tech low, but many women leave the tech industry all together. In Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women? women in tech describe how they are often looked down upon and given tasks that are simple and not given to their male colleagues. They also constantly receive unrequested sexual advances that are out of line. Susan Wu describes her experience like this: “the countless times I’ve had to move a man’s hand from my thigh (or back or shoulder or hair or arm) during a meeting (or networking event or professional lunch or brainstorming session or pitch meeting) without seeming confrontational (or bitchy or rejecting or demanding or aggressive).” This is not a safe environment for anyone. It’s a self-feeding cycle. Women don’t feel safe because there are not enough women, but there will never be enough woman when they don’ feel safe.
However, this unsafe environment and prejudice is not the only factor. Why Prejudice Alone Doesn’t Explain the Gender Gap in Science explains that women also tend to prefer jobs in the ambit of social science. For example, there is a disproportionate number of women in psychology compared to men. Similarly, women are more likely to become veterinarians than men are. This shows that lack of diversity of tech is not due to lack of skill, but simply a matter of preference. Women who might be great programmers or engineers, may have different goals in mind than just earning money. They may follow a different path with their own genius. However, the problems of prejudice and a hostile work environment truly exists. It’s important that those problems are addressed.
Besides a lack of women in the tech force, there is also an apparent lack of minorities on the work force. Same as with women, this problem may be two fold. On the one side we have a similar environment full of prejudice and hostility towards minorities. This will dissuade them from entering tech all-together. Another problem is that as Why Doesn’t Silicon Valley Hire Black Coders? explains, some universities that have been historically black don’t have the resources or expertise to prepare students to pass rigorous tech interviews. Again, we find that this is not a matter of innate skill, but of different environmental factors.
The question now is how to solve these problems. This is difficult. Many smart people have tried and while there has been progress, its slow and painful. However, I do have ideas. First off, having quotas is a terrible idea. It will lead to more resentment and prejudice. If quotas are put in place, it will lead to the belief that the female and minority employees were only hired to meet a quota and not because of their skills. This will only serve to increase the problem of prejudice.
Second, I believe a stronger effort should be made to increase not only the diversity of the workforce, but also the diversity of in-company connections. This is a problem that seems to be often overlooked. Lena Alston, for example, describes the culture shock she felt at google. “When I went out to lunch or something with my team, it was sort of like, ‘Soooo, what are you guys talking about?’ ” she says. “It could be something as simple as, like, what they watch on TV or what kind of books they like to read. And those are just not TV shows that I watch or books that I read.” While I believe that a cultural identity is important to keep and cherish, I believe some effort can be made to increase understanding between different groups. For example, I am happy to say that my friend group at Notre Dame is rather diverse, and we all share our culture with each other. Sometimes I DJ and play some Latino music. Some other times we’ll be dancing to K-Pop. Slowly, we all have come to understand each other’s culture better. The other day I was teaching some of my friends how to salsa. I had no success, but it was really fun. Throughout this all I have never felt disconnected from my cultural identity. I’m still strongly attached to it. However, I’m happy to share in other’s cultures and learn from them. I believe it is this sense of openness that will create a more open environment at the workforce. Make it less about race and more about people.
Finally, changes must be made at the root of the problem. For example, help should be given to these primarily black colleges so that they can prepare students to face interviews in Silicon Valley. Stereotypes should also be shifted. Have advertisement that feature women and minorities coding. Have them give tech talks at conferences so that their colleagues can see their work. Put more women and minorities in charge of teams to help them show their skills. Slowly I believe we can shift this bias.