A deep dive into diversity data, and advice from women in tech

Several women in tech spoke about the importance of diversity at Splunk.conf 2018 in Florida, some about shocking diversity statistics and others giving advice from one woman in tech to another.

To begin with a deep dive of diversity data, Grace Balancio, sales engineer at Splunk, outlined the following US-specific facts:

During a 2014 diversity gap analysis in Silicon Valley, it was found that 18% of the people working in tech were women, 50% were white, 41% were Asian, 3% were Hispanic and 2% were black.

More recent statistics from the US National Centre for Women and Information Technology found 26% of people in tech were women, and women made up only 17% of CIOs for fortune 500 companies.

When analysing Google trends and keywords, Balancio found diversity and inclusion has been a trending topic over the last ten years, but this is less so the case if the keywords are changed to women in technology or diversity in technology.

When talking about the reason behind needing more diversity in the technology industry, she hit the nail on the head: “Diversity and inclusion has been a trending topic, especially in Silicon Valley. It’s not just a feel good thing. We should all be aware of it, it makes sense, because we’re in tech to build tech for everyone.”

Suzanne McGovern, head of diversity and inclusion at Splunk, was pulling no punches when talking about the same subject.

“I don’t think as human beings we’re showing up as we should be right now,” she said.

“We can do better.”

It’s true that diversity and inclusion is more widely discussed throughout the technology industry, and many people are now focussing on the business case.

Whilst emphasising that “the stats don’t lie”, McGovern said: “We need to move away from the dialogs of this is the right thing to do and everyone will be enlightened.”

And the statistics do exist: for example having one woman on the board of a company reduces the likelihood of that firm going bankrupt by 20%.

While it seems quite cynical to me to only talk about the business case for diversity, it does seem clear that moving the discussion in this direction to make those who can actually do something about it, in other words the leadership in organisations, listen.

It’s true that more needs to be done to increase the amount of diversity in tech and it needs to filter down from the top.

McGovern said: Male allies need to “show up” (something I agree with) people need to be more proactive on calling out bad behaviour in the workplace (something I also agree with) and the hardest part of the work to increase diversity is changing the culture and approach towards inclusion in an organisation (guess what… these are also things I wholeheartedly agree with).

While McGovern claimed “this is not that hard, this is not rocket science, there are ways to do this” it is clear that much more still needs to be done to get organisations working towards a more diverse tech industry.

Computer Weekly’s own research found that though many companies believe they are doing their bit to balance the male/female split in their IT teams, 37% of professionals are not aware of any diversity initiatives taking place in their firms.

It seems that at the moment, the pace of change will be very slow, but each of the women who spoke at Splunk.conf 2018 had some suggestions as to how we can begin to shift the dial.

McGovern suggested:

  • Patience
  • Leadership
  • Role models
  • Holding ourselves and our leadership accountable
  • Measurable outcomes

Some of these suggestions are very important and common when talking about how to encourage diverse talent into the sector.

On the topic of holding ourselves and our leadership accountable, Mary Ann Blair, CISO of Carnegie Mellon said firms need to work “from the inside out” – diversity needs to be tackled inside of an organisation at the same time as that organisation trying to help outside initiatives increase the amount of diversity in tech.

She also claimed part of having industry role models is to tackle the negative stereotypes surrounding the technology industry and help girls to understand what a role in technology actually entails.

She said we need to “help girls understand that there’s a lot of problem solving, there’s a lot of fun, there’s a lot of game play” in the sector rather than this commonly held belief that the only people working in tech do so alone in the dark crouched over a computer.

Blair said it’s time for people to start calling other people out if they do something that holds people back, like talk over a woman during a meeting or some of the many of the other commonly occurring workplace misdemeanours that only succeed in keep men at the top.

But not everything needs to be called out.

She said: “There’s a time to confront and there’s a time to work your magic behind the scenes.”

As for encouraging young people into the industry, Blair said: “It starts early and it’s continuous. We need to interest them, we need to engage and attract them”

But it is common for women, especially in industries where they are outnumbered, not to recognise their talent and Blair stated when applying for jobs women will commonly look to meet all of the traits required before they will put themselves forward, whereas men will happily apply if they only meet one.

Continuing with this topic, Angie Ruan, SVP of technology for Nasdaq claimed one of the more important things she had learned during her career is that a lot of the time she help herself back, so rather than there being a glass ceiling it can often actually be a “sticky floor”.

Role models is a frequently covered topic when it comes to increasing the number of women in the technology industry, with many young women claiming they wished women already in the industry would do more to encourage them into the sector.

But sometimes not touched upon is the importance of parents in the decisions young people make about the subjects they study or the careers they pursue.

Ruan joked that her mother told her to pursue a career in technology because it would be office-based, so she could use the office air-conditioning to escape the humid conditions outside.

This was a sentiment shared by Haiyan Song, senior vice president and general manager for security markets at Splunk, who claimed she had expecting to become a dentist, but changed direction once her father realised how “impactful” technology would be.

She says: “He was the one who said I should go and apply for it and the time I didn’t know what computer science was at all.”

As well as role models, having a mentor, a sponsor or a support system can be very helpful for anyone looking to progress their career, regardless of gender or industry.

Song says “even just in life having a mentor having someone who will pull you through important critical moments of life is really important” but not to worry if the mentor-mentee relationship is not official.

“A lot of the learnings can be from people who are sitting here, from people you are working with,”

She says. “I don’t think you should zero in on just one person.”

As is frequently stated when it comes to increasing the amount of diversity in the technology industry there is no silver bullet, but one thing can be agreed: the pace of change is too slow to keep having the same conversations without taking action.

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