There are people living in tents, sleeping on the sidewalks, huddling in doorways. Why? They don’t have homes. Must be a shortage of homes. Crazy, right? There is a lack of diversity in tech. Must be a “pipeline problem?” Oh please, that is a marketing construct for corporate absolution. The real issue is supply and demand. “Pipeline problem” makes a lack of diversity sound like a supply issue, when the first issue is a lack of demand.
Supply and Demand
Mitt Rommey’s request for women in his cabinet, turned into a political punchline during the 2012 presidential debates. Read in context, the situation was then Governor Rommey’s annoyance at no women candidates for his cabinet.
Mitt Romney: Thank you and important topic. And one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as Governor of my state. Because I had the chance to pull together a Cabinet, and all of the applicants seemed to be men. And I went to my staff and I said: “How come all of the people for these jobs are all men?” They said: “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.” And I said: “Well gosh, can’t we find some women that are also qualified?” And we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our Cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said: “Can you help us find folks?” And they brought us whole binders full of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my Cabinet, and my senior staff, the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.”
With a demand for women and effort was made and women got positions. If there is demand, supply will work itself out. The Vovlo XC40 exceeded its expectations. It was available in March of 2018 and by May there were 80,000 orders. Volvo ramped up production. Of course it is about money and opportunity. Opportunity generated by demand. Demand based on a belief by consumers that this product fills a niche in that will make their lives better.
There is no demand without an inherent belief in value. Research shows, a diverse team makes a better product. If you are designing a product, it makes sense for the demographics of the developing team to have similar demographics or experiences of the end users. Particularly in technology, whose products impact the majority of population, there is a persistent belief in the myth that young Caucasian and Asian males are the best hires. Seriously, is this the sole demographic you want to design ubiquitous devices in your everyday life?
You can get directions from your phone predicting the time you will arrive with red lines indicating traffic slowdowns and alternative routes. You can have retina recognition for your mobile phones. You can use your phone to pay for items, board a plan and order tickets. Yet this “pipeline problem” for lack of diversity has haunted the tech industry for over 20 years? Try again. Changing the demographic nature of the workforce requires a shift to embrace the value of diversity.
A founder turned funder, whom I admire spoke on funding companies and diversity he said:
….really the first 10 employees at a company have such a huge impact on culture and the default advice, which I do believe is good advice is you know to start with the your immediate friend network. or the people who you worked with you are most impressed by most would want to create something with the smartest people you know, the hardest working people you know. And i do think that is good advice. The challenge then, for most people, that pool is limited.
I think the best way we can help them overcome that and give then access to awesome people. The best way to overcome is to help build out that network that make up that supply.
This adheres to the issue being one of the pipeline. There was mention of the Ronney rule during the interview, which helps, but why does that have to be something that needs be in place? Why? The tipping point will be when the beliefs change, diversity is valued and there is demand.
Kids observe things and ask why. This week, be a kid, observe and ask why. Look at your work place. Is it diverse in age, ethnicity and gender? If not, why? Does your why make sense? If asked who the best people you have worked with ever are, what does your list look like? Is it diverse in age, ethnicity and gender? If not, why? The kid in you can ask why, the adult in you can answer. The optimist is all of us can hope for better products.