How to make the tech industry more inclusive

Industry professionals shared their thoughts about what it will take to make the tech sector more inclusive during a recent #IDGTECHtalk Twitter chat

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It was a quintessential “perfect storm” moment. Most of us were home in quarantine, our eyes locked on social media to stay connected and informed – then suddenly, the video of George Floyd’s horrific and brutal death in the hands of police was everywhere.

It was impossible to ignore the problem this time. Change was needed immediately. Overnight, the nation erupted in protest. But this time it felt different; there were clearer and more tangible calls for racial equality. Notably, BIPOC were calling out corporations for systemically excluding them and undervaluing their voice and their influence.

Tech was not immune to this criticism.

At a recent #IDGTECHtalk discussion on Twitter, we took an hour to take a hard look in the mirror and examine what it will take to make tech a more inclusive sector. Influencers from all backgrounds came together to provide solutions and give context to roadblocks. Here’s what we discovered.

The work won’t be comfortable

For tech to become a truly inclusive sector, we must ask our leaders to step completely out of their comfort zones – and also cede power. Much like the move by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who resigned from his board to give his spot to a black candidate, change will call for leaders to take action in visual and tangible ways that may make them feel uncomfortable or exposed.

As David Mario Smith, Founder and Principal Analyst at InFlow Analysis, said during the chat, “It's also important for org leaders to create open and safe spaces to have those uncomfortable conversations about race. This has to be a learning moment.”

Clare Brown, Influencer & Audience Strategist at IDG, added, “This will involve uncomfortable conversations and willingness to cede power. Tech is a system built and designed for white males. People in power have to be willing to acknowledge that & lift up others. Women, POC, and BIPOC cannot give the power to themselves.”

BIPOC and POC need access to career-boosting resources

It is no secret that a great career comes from being well-connected. But what happens if certain groups fundamentally don’t have access to the right networking circles to boost their visibility and career options?

In a recent Bloomberg article, Chris Bennett, who runs an education startup called Wonderschool, said an investor once asked him, “Who do you know that I know?” Bennett, a black transplant from the East Coast who was the first in his family to attend college, realized he didn’t have the right connections, and that was a deal-breaker for investors.

BIPOC and POC need access, and organizations need to get creative to give it to them. This can be done through virtual mentorship programs or digital networking events that don’t require them to physically be in the space to network. Brown said networking opportunities are critical:

“Many POC and BIPOC say they don't have access to the same networking circles as their white peers. If getting ahead depends on 'who you know' then access to those circles is crucial,” she said.

Rob O'Regan, Global Content Director, Strategic Marketing Services, at IDG, added that virtual mentoring programs are completely possible:

“We've shown that we can replicate most other aspects of office work remotely. Mentorship should be no exception,” he said.

Remote work might help with racial inclusion at work

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many organizations to require their employees to work remotely. However, it has also given organizations an opportunity. HR is no longer limited to recruiting and filling jobs locally. HR can now recruit from historically black colleges and universities across the country, and networking events can occur over Zoom.

As Brown said: “You raise a very good point about remote work helping to make the enterprise more inclusive. If you are not limited to recruiting in your own backyard there is really no excuse for not diversifying your teams.”

Additionally, BIPOC and POC won’t have the added stress of being the only person who looks like them in an office setting when they work entirely from home, said Michelle Davidson, Content Editor, Social Media, at IDG.

Leadership holds the keys to true inclusivity

IT leaders hold the keys to creating truly inclusive and diverse organizations. BIPOC and POC cannot grant access to themselves. It is up to leaders to educate themselves on implicit bias and systemic racism in order to make real change that goes beyond just knee-jerk, performative fixes.

Additionally, IT leaders must be open to receiving, and answering, questions about their organization that they have not had to face before.

“We first need diversity in leadership. And we have to start having those uncomfortable conversations about race and implicit bias. Leaders have to commit to continuous learning and need empathy,” Smith said.

Instead of going silent or getting defensive, use this time to be thoughtful about making real change in your organization, Smith added.

“It's the job of leadership to create the open safe spaces to make it comfortable to have the uncomfortable conversations. They're uncomfortable because they expose systemic bias and the root of it. Change is uncomfortable,” he said.

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Join Us: Please join the #IDGTECHtalk Twitter chat that occurs every other Thursday on Twitter at 12pm ET.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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