Is diversity and inclusion of underrepresented groups in the technology industry still an issue? And if it is, how prevalent is this problem? How can we make a difference? To gain some insights into this controversial subject, we reached out to the women we admire, and who exemplify the promotion of equality every single day.
The numbers tell us that diversity is still an issue in the industry. See for yourself:
- As of 2019, for every 3 men in the tech industry, there is only 1 woman.
- 43% of female tech professionals don’t think their company invests enough in building women’s careers.
- At large tech corporations, only 25% of leadership roles are held by women.
- If properly implemented, diversity efforts could net the IT industry an extra $400 billion in revenue each year.
But, we wanted to know, first-hand, the impact of these numbers on women. So, we spoke to those who spend their workday in an industry dominated by men, including our female COO.
Who we talked to:
Stephanie Ihezukwu has been in the tech industry for almost a decade with experience in web hosting, Helpdesk, and now security. She is a chapter lead for WoSEC Houston, co-host of Coolest Nerds in the Room, and a Security Analyst for a global law firm.
Chloé Messdaghi is a Security Researcher Advocate, co-founder of WoSEC, and founder of WomenHackerz. In her free time, Chloe is a speaker and mentor on diversity and inclusion in InfoSec and runs the nonprofit “Drop Labels”.
And for specific insights about innovation at Linux Academy, we spoke with our COO:
Anna Talerico is the Chief Operating Officer of Linux Academy and leader of sales, support, customer service, and culture. She adds perspective to leadership meetings- championing equality and understanding to further the company’s mission of equal representation in education and technology.
Here is what they told us about their challenges, and suggestions for how we can keep moving forward, together.
Are diversity and inclusion still issues for women and minorities in the tech industry?
I’d say that we as an industry are doing a good job of spreading the word about it, but at a certain point, it becomes more of a buzzword and less of a solution to a problem. I think one of the reasons that it is still a problem is that privileged people just don’t get it. It’s like the “blue eyes” experiment by Jane Elliott. Having kids live under conditions of the oppressed made them appreciate their privilege and understand what it means to be on the other side.
Being diverse and inclusive isn’t just about finding a black person to put on marketing material and calling it good. It is allowing yourself to be uncomfortable when things are happening in your day to day life, like when a woman is being talked over or when your entire leadership team is filled with white men, except for the leader of the HR department. A full-on cultural shift has to happen and though there are way more people concerned about it today than when I first started, we are nowhere near where it needs to be. People do not like to be uncomfortable for themselves, let alone the elephant in the room.
I work in infosec and only 11% of women are in this field. That has remained unchanged since 2013. To add on, only 12% of minorities are in infosec and only 4% of hackers are women. From these statistics alone, clearly we have a problem with inclusion. Until we fix the situation, diversity statistics will not improve for the better.
How can companies maintain and support diversity and inclusion?
Differences strengthen the fabric of a company. As the technology community strives to be more inclusive, we are committed to diversity as we continue to expand globally. We often seek candidates who don’t fit the mold. And that is a real challenge [because] the pool of technical candidates sometimes lacks diversity. I wish that diversity happened naturally, but it doesn’t always work that way. To build a diverse company, it needs to be intentional. A workforce lacking diversity isn’t competitive or compelling. And a culture that doesn’t focus on inclusion isn’t a sustainable one. Creating and maintaining a diverse workforce requires a continuous commitment to sourcing and attracting talent that is representative of the communities we serve.
How do you think companies can improve retention rates for women and minorities?
This question is a tough one for several reasons. A question I would pose in response is: do companies care? I mean I know that we’ve made a bit of a ruckus about it, but from what I have seen, the efforts have been…minimal at best. I think the way to retain women and minorities would be to stop making them “the only”. Stop tokenizing people. “Well, we have a black, so I guess we’re diverse now…” That doesn’t fly anymore. When we are the only in a room or in a team or in a company, we face so many other challenges that others aren’t aware of. Microaggressions, isolation, feelings of being an “other,” not being heard, being put in subservient roles within the team, like note-taker or meeting organizer.
If you are going to be diverse and inclusive, you have to walk the walk and talk the talk. Because frankly, we’re tired. We just want to focus on advancing in our careers, not making others comfortable with our demographics. I’d say start there, try actually caring and understanding the value that minorities and women add to any team or organization. Hire more of us. Put more of us in leadership roles. Invite more of us to conferences.
By listening and taking actions to make the environment safe for everyone. This includes management training around inclusion, especially with the executive team. Have full representation all the way to the top. Lastly, equal pay and title promotions. In infosec, title promotions beyond a manager is a real challenge for women and minorities.
Have you faced a challenge as a woman or as a minority in the tech industry? If so, how did you overcome it?
Absolutely. I have been prevented from being promoted, paid lower wages than my male counterparts, excluded from conversations, judged, told I was not technical enough. I’ve even had a customer tell me that women aren’t technical and that she wanted to speak to a man. To be quite honest, it burned me out. It’s already hard to be in this industry and constantly be on top of new tech and get better at your job. As a minority, you also have to field inappropriate comments or questions about your hair and your culture. You have to defend yourself against the idea of you that someone has already created before you’ve even opened your mouth. You basically wake up a loser and spend the whole day proving to everyone you are not a loser and then wak[e] up and doing it all over again.
The only way I have been able to overcome it is to have a strong community of supportive people. If I hadn’t found that, I wouldn’t be here. My community lets me vent, reminds me I am qualified and doesn’t allow me to dim my light for anyone else. [It] reminds me that there are people out there that don’t care that I am a woman or that I am black. My community reminds me that if I am uncomfortable where I am, there are places out there that will embrace me with open arms just as I am.
We agree with Steph when it comes to finding that ever-powerful support group. You are never alone. Get connected and find like-minded learners that get it, here.
Anna also echoed this thought when we asked her for insights on leading diverse teams in the tech workforce:
It is clear technology workers require an environment where they can be heard and practice their craft. And have the opportunity to expand their knowledge. It is a challenge, but we continually push forward to challenge and engage our employees in a supportive, inclusive culture.
It’s an ongoing challenge, but I keep fighting it. As a speaker for diversity and inclusion, founder of WomenHackerz (a private community of hundreds of women around the world to connect and up their skills together), and cofounder of Women in Security (WoSEC) & head SF Bay Area Chapter, I am doing whatever it takes to provide support and build a community where women can empower and inspire. But most importantly, encouraging them to stay in the infosec space.
As you can see, the diversity and inclusion of women and minorities is still a very real, pervasive issue. And causing change must start with all of us. You can make a difference in your workplace, your classroom, or boardroom. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Often questions are necessary for disruptive change and to begin building advocacy for yourself and your peers. If you have power, actively look for ways to lift up others take them along with you.
We can, should, and must keep speaking up to show others that their voice truly matters.
So how are you hacking diversity at your company? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
For more information, check out our past webinar with another powerful woman in tech, Elaine Marino. And if you’re interested in disrupting the world of cloud technology with your unique background, we encourage you to join our diverse team.