The conversation around diversity is a complicated one and is often charged with emotions and sometimes accusation. While there are some issues that we have yet to fully agree on, I do believe that we can at least acknowledge that there is a problem with the lack of diversity in the Tech industry, particularly in engineering and computer science. Before I delve into potential solutions and where these problems stem from, I will first talk about the necessity of diversity.
Diversity is important in several ways. The biggest is that having “diversity” also means having a variety of different backgrounds, cultures, ideas, and opinions, which in turn sparks healthy debate and a generally more inclusive work culture that is more open to change. Workplaces that lack diversity are in danger of developing an “echo chamber” of ideas, or perhaps developing ideas that would make it difficult for new members to feel comfortable in the culture. Additionally, having diversity also allows better representation from different components of society. Ultimately, for a company, this is a good thing as a company ultimately needs to be in touch with society to be successful. Thus, having a diversity, I believe it can be agreed on, is at least a good thing, and something to be desired.
The question then becomes how necessary is diversity? Is it a moral imperative? This I think depends on individual opinion and understanding of what is moral. I for one believe that having diversity is a moral issue, as having diversity is inherently “good” in the sense that it allows for better working conditions and helps a company be a responsible component of society. Others though may argue that diversity, while good to have is not absolutely necessary and issues with diversity that we hear about in the media are overblown.
Regardless of how “necessary” diversity is, we can at least agree I hope that it is good to have, and so the next question is how do we achieve and promote diversity? This is tricky, and we shall analyze this issue in terms of the tech and computing industry. It is clear that right now there is a severe gender imbalance in the tech industry and there is a similar issue with minority groups in computing. If we look first at the gender issue, there has been intense debate as to where this divide ultimately starts from. Some will argue, such as the google memo that circulated recently, that there are “inherent biological differences” between men and women that cause men to be more interested in computing and women less so. This idea in particular has sparked intense debate, and I think ultimately we do not have conclusive evidence that there are or are not such relevant differences.
Something we do have strong evidence for, and something that we can do more as a society to change now, is the gender stereotypes, and to a lesser extent the cultural stereotypes, that still persist in our society. These stereotypes have been shown to manifest even in extremely young children and push people to certain roles based on factors completely outside of their control. For example, there is this idea that boys are the ones who take apart computers, who like legos and scifi, while it’s girls who like animals and the color pink and are more emotionally receptive. Thus, it is unsurprising that more males choose to go into engineering and computer science, while more women go into teaching and nursing. This issue also exists in a racial context. For example, there’s the stereotype that “asians” are good at math or just strong academically, and so we (speaking from personal experience) are expected to do well in science and math classes. It is no wonder then that so many asians go into engineering and computer science, so much so that “asian” is no longer considered a “minority” in some contexts.
I believe is the biggest reason for why we have gender imbalances and imbalances as a whole in certain areas of society. If from childhood people are told to follow certain paths, they are less likely to deviate from norms dictated by society. This is an injustice in society, as people are essentially forced into certain roles because of a factor they cannot control. Thus, while we cannot control or yet understand how differences in biology may impact the roles men/women choose, we can at least see that there are inherent societal issues that are causing harm.
This is something, I will add, that does more than “oppress” one group. Men also face such stereotypes, such as the idea of toxic masculinity that has become a topic of conversation recently or that men have to be “providing” in a relationship. At the end of the day, we will have to address all such issues, but there are some issues that should take priority in the current context.
It is based on this idea that I am supportive of efforts to provide certain groups more resources. For example, take the Grace Hopper conference, which is an extremely powerful resources for women seeking to go into the tech industry. There has been some jealousy or discontentment from other groups over how effective this conference is, and this highlights an important point: so long as we distinguish between different groups, there will always be feelings of “injustice” or “unfairness”. In this case however, I view the conference as absolutely necessary and its long-term benefits outweigh any divides it may create in the short-term. After all, putting more women in the tech industry helps to break up male dominated work cultures that currently exist. Women who are entering the tech industry now are warriors who will hopefully become role models for younger generations of women engineers, and who as a result will help encourage more women to enter the industry. While we may not ever reach a perfect gender balance, this is at least a good and necessary step to bring in underrepresented groups and push for change in society.