Gender, ethnic diversity must become a top priority in tech Gender, ethnic diversity must become a top priority in tech

More diversity is good business, and leaders will benefit from reaching outside old-time networks More diversity is good business, and leaders will benefit from reaching outside old-time networks

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July 10, 2019

I worked for private sector tech companies for years before I came to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and along the way I developed a network of highly skilled professionals who were excellent candidates for a range of job opportunities.

They were also all white males, like me.

Whenever I was hiring, I’d reach into that network and select people who looked and thought a lot like me. I wasn’t trying to be exclusive, I was relying on the familiar. But behaviors like mine are one reason women make up only about a fifth of tech occupations in the state today, according to the Mass Technology Leadership Council. Meanwhile, blacks and Hispanics each comprise about 3 percent of the entire tech sector.

I’ve since learned to do better, and all leaders in tech must do better, as well.

To shake up tech, we need to shake up ourselves

Achieving greater gender and ethnic diversity in tech will require more commitment and effort, but I think it’s essential for some very straightforward reasons. Among them: It’s good business, and our industry is badly stretched for new talent.

But to truly shake up tech’s demographic mix, we need to shake up ourselves. Leaders must commit to getting out, meeting new people, and building new professional networks. We also need to explore different educational feeder systems. It’s easy for an Ivy League man to look for another Ivy League man when hiring, but the industry might be better off if he expanded his vision and considered graduates of a majority/minority college, such as the University of Massachusetts Boston.

At the Boston Fed, we are trying to lead by example. For example, we work with the Private Industry Council to bring high school students with diverse backgrounds to the Fed and teach them about new technologies and career options. We also hosted a teacher extern program, so educators could better inform students about tech jobs.

Tech is always ready for new faces and ideas

One of the beautiful things about tech is that, by its nature, it’s full of brand new technology open to different faces and ideas. With blockchain, for instance, we’re all just starting to figure things out, and that gives tech leaders a chance to help women and people from underrepresented groups become early thought leaders.

I’m particularly passionate about using my position as an IT leader to get new people excited about careers in technology. I’m on the board at Just-a-Start, a free program that teaches computer skills to people with at least a high school education. I also work with FinTech Women, an advocacy group for professionals focused on advancing women in technology. And just last month, I spoke at LiveWorx19 on a panel sponsored by Innovation Women, a group devoted to booking more business women in public speaking roles.

I’m also proud to work for an organization like the Boston Fed that has a strong commitment to diversity in the workforce.

There are numerous opportunities for tech leaders to become allies to current and potential entrants into our field, if we look for them.

Greater diversity isn’t about moral victories, but major business benefits

Greater diversity in tech isn’t about moral victories, it’s about bringing huge benefits to our industry and communities. Here are two I’d highlight:

  • Research indicates that diverse organizations are more effective. For instance, a McKinsey study indicates that greater gender and ethnic diversity correlates with higher profitability. Diverse perspectives help stir up new thinking and innovation.
  • Tech companies must expand the pool of skilled workers. A study a few years ago by the Mass Technology Leadership Council indicated there were 17 open tech jobs for every new tech graduate in Massachusetts, and the market has only gotten tighter.

By recognizing the importance of diversity in tech, we’re simply catching up with what other sectors know and customers expect. More diversity in tech is good business and good citizenship. It’s also essential to our industry’s future. 

 

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