Is anyone else sick of the diversity in tech talks?

Isn’t it ironic that the founder and organizer of Black Founders is saying that she’s sick of the diversity in tech talks?

Here’s a couple of scenarios that’s happened over the past couple of weeks.

– I participate in the Launch hackathon. As the hackathon is ending, the Launch conference begins and opens up with a Diversity In Tech discussion. As the only black female participant in the hackathon, my coding is interrupted a couple of times to ask if and why I’m not going to to the Diversity In Tech discussion.

– This weekend I volunteered and mentored at the Black Founders Railsbridge workshop. Last week, this was posted on Hacker News, Any black women founders out there? What’s your story? During the workshop, I received an email asking for my thoughts on the hacker news post.

– This morning, I see this on CNN. Black, female, and a Silicon Valley trade secret.

So, before anyone else asks me to participate on a diversity panel, write a blog post about diversity, or go listen to yet another talk about diversity. I have a few obvious statements. I am a black female developer entrepreneur. I am diversity in tech. I don’t need to talk about it anymore than its already been talked about. I don’t need to go write about it any more than its been written about. I need to “be about it.” And that’s what I and a large community of others are doing.

Being about it.

– I am a software developer, who is also black and female. For the other black || female developers out there, (and yes there are quite a few of us), let’s go beyond “Hello World”. Let’s build up our software acumen with a focus on being a good developer, and not a good black || female developer. I don’t know any developers who aim for the latter, but I know a few developers who end up there. The tech community is thirsty and wants the diversity monkey off its back, so its eager and has thrown accolades to black || female while lowering the bar for good. Please be careful on which accolades you accept and always continue to better your craft. On the flipside, if you know your sh*t, then fight for your accolades. The tech community can be very good ol’ boyish, and sometimes has a hard time identifying good when it doesn’t look (white || asian) && male. This has been my personal path of being/becoming a good software developer. This is me being about it. But the more of us we have knowing our sh*t, and receiving the appropriate accolades, the better. This is us being about it. It is also us changing the landscape for those who come after.

– I am entrepreneur, who is black and female. (see section above and replace ‘developer’ with ‘entrepreneur’)

– I am founder of Black Founders, an organization with a diversity based mission. In the past two years, Black Founders has organized only only one talk/panel about diversity in tech. In comparison to the 50 other workshops/conferences focused on learning, mentoring, and expansion of your network. This is another way how I’ve chosen to “be about it”. Everyone doesn’t have to launch their own organization, but consider supporting organizations like mine or others with your time by volunteering, mentoring, teaching, or donating money. This is all of us being about it to help fix “the pipeline”. (Note: you don’t need to be a minority to attend or participate in diverse organizations’ events. See Black Founders is for White People)

– I am not a blogger or writer. I really hate blogging, hence the long time gaps in between posts. But this “being about it” tip is for the bloggers and writers. So, its pretty obvious that diversity in tech is a problem. Instead of writing another story about the problem, consider writing a story that leads to the solution. Put some shine on the work that’s being done. Work with organizations like mine and others to find entrepreneurs to highlight in your posts. Share their story and or startup on your platform. Completely avoid the diversity angle of the story. Just tell their story and add their picture. We need more of these stories outside of diversity media platforms. Media and bloggers have a huge part to play in changing the tech landscape. We all know that we have hidden biases surrounding race and gender. The media and bloggers can help challenge our hidden biases by covering stories we don’t traditionally see. In the future, with hope, a post about “where are the black female entrepreneurs?” would seem silly, because everyone will know of many.

In conclusion, I am sick of seeing and hearing diversity in tech talks. I know some talk is necessary, but at this stage we should be beyond talking about. And as for my example scenarios above, I really didn’t have the time to participate in the diversity in tech talks or posts because I was being it.

(note: please don’t take my tone in this post as anger…only passion)

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8 thoughts on “Is anyone else sick of the diversity in tech talks?

  1. I agree with everything that you have mentioned. It definetely leads to a separate but equal space. And what we are all striving for is equal. Its better for everyone when you can feel confident about your skills without thinking you got a “pass”

    1. Good point Kimberly. We are striving for equality, and we know “passes” can sometimes bridge us there. (there are so many types of passes, some have been bridges and some have been setbacks) I personally believe it is better for everyone to be the best at their game, and if there are “passes” involved let that be the least of the story.

      1. let me clarify my last reply. “passes” that ignore quality are extreme setbacks. “passes” that aim to level the field can be helpful, for example conference organizers working with diversity leaders (behind the scenes) to identify quality speakers and participants because they are not in their current network. at the end of the day, the conference organizer should be happy with the diverse perspectives that occurred at their conference without sacrificing quality. but he/she needn’t go on a press crusade on how x was invited because they were y and they’re hitting their diversity initiatives. the reality should be that the conference organizer used another resource to expand his/her network to find good speakers and participants.

  2. Great post Diyah! I agree that there is a tremendous difference in a pass that is a “bridge” and those which are setbacks. There are truly perhaps very few of us women of color engineers who did not receive a special access pass of some sort on the way through the door. It’s what we do with that pass after we get through the door that really matters. I’ve kicked that door open and kept stepping lol You have to know your craft and then own it and get about the work. Nuff said…

  3. I think it’s a double edge sword. Not talking about diversity often and publicly will make some assume that there’s no longer a problem. All is well and this issue has somehow corrected itself – in other words the free market system has demonstrated its ability to solve the problem. On the other hand, VC’s, investors, project decision makers, the world at large still have to be reminded that disparities do exist, and that qualified folks (programmers, firms, companies, etc.) are available to do the work that needs to be done. Organizations like yours as it become more of an influence on the industry will be the advocates and go to subject matter-experts. Reminding the market the needs that exist in the industry and the capacity of like-minded folks to do the work now and in the future.

    The flip side of the coin is that a number of people are always talking about “diversity”, but are doing nothing to advance the proverbial “cause.” I remember reading various business publications since the 1980’s where a number of Fortune 100 companies had CDO’s (Chief Diversity Officers) always featured in articles, show up on college campuses at recruiting events, and/or boasted how they increased their MBE/WBE goals. However, they had no budgets, no authority, no staff, and were primarily used as symbols of meeting “diversity goals” without demonstrating any sincere commitment. The tech industry is going through the same growing pains as other industries and need people who are knowledgeable, capable and committed to holding people/industry accountable.

    I commend you and your organization for the work being done in the trenches. The right balance between increasing industry knowledge, and ensuring the industry standards are equally applied to everyone has always been a challenge. Creating the capacity to be the next big thing requires access to capital, technical and business know how (i.e., management experience, legal, finance, HR, marketing, etc.). This is why organizations like yours help bridge those gaps. Keep fighting the good fight!

    1. Hi Ed! Great perspective! The funny thing is that I’m watching these 8-12 year old startups that have become large organizations repeat the same actions of those Fortune 100 companies with CDOs. Thanks for commenting!

      1. I think the reason why the samething is happening is to follow the money. Most VC’s and Equity Firms (i.e., Carlyle Group, etc.) came from the same group of corporate raiders (aka investors) who brought their cultural mindset from old industries to the new tech industries. Wealth tends to be concentrated and access to large amounts of capital is just as concentrated. That’s part of the reason perhaps why startups lose innovation, because they start resembling older companies like Xerox and IBM in the 70’s. We all know how these companies growth declined, and the Apple’s and Microsoft’s went through the stratosphere due to their business model. It’s interesting to know if people of color were able to find jobs at Apple and MS and benefit from this growth (guess a different story within itself).

        Look at the direction Yahoo is going with changing hiring and work practices (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/12/yahoo-hiring_n_2859068.html?ir=Technology). What is the likelihood, if the stories are true, that an engineer graduating from an HBCU will be able to get into a tech company if hiring decisions are weighted towards academic pedigree and not technical know-how or experience. Keep ringing the alarm of awareness and making sure the next generation is positioned to jump into the game when their time arrives.

  4. At the risk of giving away my age, the diversity talk is nothing new. The first web 1.0 bubble was the same thing and maybe even the same people talking about it. As a QA professional that has worked in silicon valley for over 10 years I am bored with the topic. Bottom line I wouldn’t be working in the valley if I didn’t have some marketable skills. Maybe I got a pass to get throw the door but I had to work hard once I was through the door and work hard I did.
    The companies I have had the pleasure of working for have not focused on race or sex rather they have focused on skills, knowledge and can you get things done ie work. Great post, thanks.

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About Hadiyah

Software Engineer, Entrepreneur, and Startup Aficionado. I co-founded a student venture firm for students at historically black colleges, HBCUvc, software development agency, Playpen Labs, and Black Founders nonprofit.