Technology has connected nations, dissolved borders, encouraged empathy across great divides, and yet, the technology industry itself is still sorely lacking in diversity. Our industry is built on data. Yet the data of diversity tells a sad story.
Even though one in three IT graduates are women, only 21% of IT employees are women. Only 1% of Maori are studying IT and only 2.5% are working in the IT industry. Only 11% of women occupy executive positions in Silicon Valley. Locally, and anecdotally, we need only glance around our offices to see the lack of diversity.
Diversity and inclusion are an integral element of Microsoft’s culture. We’re immensely proud of the work we do, such as ShadowTech and DigiGirlz. At the recent Enterprise In Action challenge we had two incredible students in our team, CJ Dobbs and Abbey Herbison, founders and inventors of iBrite, an innovative LED light that helps children with dyslexia read and write. It’s also gratifying that Microsoft NZ has been awarded the Rainbow Tick from the LGBTTI community.
However, before we pat ourselves on the back, we must consider the complexity of the issue too profound to be reformed by a few campaigns. The blunt fact is that to make an impact we need to do the hardest thing – change our thinking. This means interrogating our assumptions, from considering how to integrate technology into early education, to being aware of our own unconscious bias. This even extends to sensitivity in how we word our job ads to ensure we don’t exclude anyone. Every day I’m reminded of Dr Wayne Dyer’s maxim, ‘When you change the way you see the world you change the world you see.’
Diversity is not just a moral issue, it’s a business imperative. Diversity enhances business. Few things are as powerful as a fresh perspective and diversity offers new points of view. It’s easy to live in an echo chamber, convinced that the way I think is the way everyone thinks. In an industry fuelled by constant change, to thrive you must feel comfortable with uncertainty and be open to having your point of view continually challenged.
We’re living through a time of tribalism, when fear has encouraged some to look inwards, defining themselves in opposition to the other. This makes it even more important for us to lead by example and foster inclusion and diversity. More than ever before technology is woven into the fabric of our existence, touching almost every race, age, gender, and nation. Following this thread of logic: the people creating, making and selling technology should reflect the users and consumers of that same technology. Ideas are the fuel of innovation and great ideas are born of diverse thinkers from all spectrums of life.