Tech Industry Diversity Crisis or Diversity Opportunity?

The biggest challenges for diversity in tech? Networking and culture.



Over the last few weeks, a host of tech companies answered the call to publish their diversity data. The numbers indicate that Yahoo, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest are largely employers of young white and Asian men. Honestly. This isn’t a surprise. But the dominant narrative is that there’s a “diversity crisis” in the tech industry.

This is a shallow approach to the conversation, according to Kathryn Finney, managing director for digitalundivided, an organization that creates programs to increase diversity in digital industries. Finney says that in order the change the tech industry, we have to understand how it works: and that includes a discussion about network.

“Most people get their jobs in tech companies because they’re friends with the hiring manager,” she says. “If you’re not someone they think they can be friends with, it’s very difficult to get hired.”

Finney started digitalundivided to create a network and increase diversity through the growth of that network. Part of this effort is the FOCUS100, which brought together 45 female tech company founders and co-founders at its inaugural conference in 2012. Speakers for the third annual FOCUS100 on October 3 to 4, 2014 include FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Maxine Williams, the head of global diversity at Facebook.

In addition to being connected, though, she says it’s important to understand the tech industry culture. She used an example of a woman who had lunch with the hiring manager at a company and was waiting to schedule an interview. “[Lunch] was her interview,” Finney says.

And just like you probably shouldn’t wear a suit to a meeting of technologists, having a college education doesn’t necessarily get you in the door. It may be relevant that the number of women, blacks and Latinos studying computer science has been on the decline since the late 80’s. What’s more important is that you don’t need to go to college to learn to code.

“You don’t need a computer science degree to be a developer,” Finney says, adding that you need to know JavaScript, HTML5, CSS and other basic coding languages to become a junior developer. And the idea that you can take a few classes, rather than paying for an expensive four-year university education, could remove a huge roadblock for urban communities.

Ultimately, Finney says that if you can code and you know someone on the inside, you might find someone willing to give you a shot — and this is how the technology industry will become more diverse.

In this way, the conversation should be much like the startup: in search of a solution to a problem. With tech companies desperate for talented developers, it doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you know how to code.

“The conversation really needs to be about the opportunities [for minorities],” Finney says.