I first met Gloria while working in the East Coast startup community. We were both mentors for a Lean Startup Machine weekend. I was immediately struck by her positivity and her action-oriented approach (which left my strategic mind in the dust). Her work that weekend helping ideas get validated by social media channels and IRL interviews taught me a thing or two.
Since that time we have both left the East Coast. She, moving from Philadelphia to Texas and me, Delaware to New Orleans. Watching her work founding and growing the Women in Tech Summit has been inspiring. After far too long we recently reconnected face-to-face in New Orleans. Our discussion was wide-ranging but expectedly ended up focused on the current issues challenges facing women in technology. As follow-up, I sent her some questions. I think you will find her answers insightful and authentic.
Who is Gloria?
Gloria Bell brings 35+ years of experience, to her roles as Co-Founder and Operations Director of The Women In Tech Summit and as the Marketing Advisor for TechGirlz. In addition to these roles, Gloria provides social media consulting services and is an Adjunct Professor at Drexel University. Gloria has also shared her experience and expertise as a volunteer organizer of PodCamp Philly, PodCamp East and Content Camp, as the former Events Director for Philly Startup Leaders, and as a mentor for Lean Startup Machine and Startup Weekend.
Q1. The current level of diversity in the technology community is a fairly Downstream metric and is a reflection of lack of diversity in technology training years earlier. The current efforts to attract and retain more than just white males in STEM related fields should lead to greater diversification in years to come. Where should we be focusing our efforts in order to deliver results in the short-term as we wait for the Upstream efforts to pay off?
There is no one answer to resolving the lack of diversity in tech. Equalizing gender and ethnicity in tech requires a multi pronged approach – building the traditional pipeline, current recruitment and retention. Many people look at building the pipeline as only a long-term solution and they are primarily correct. It can also be a short-term solution if hiring managers and diversity/inclusion specialists begin to look beyond the stereo-typical “perfect candidate”. Technologists who may have pursued degrees other than computer science or who have received their training through dev bootcamps or internships or self-education can be beneficial members of a team and often be outside of the stereo-typical, young, white, male generally seen in tech. This melding of the more traditional long-term pipeline with less traditional short-term pipeline is one solution.
Companies also need to be looking at the issues of culture, pay and inclusion when they consider recruitment and, as important, if not more so, retention, especially when it comes to women. Many qualified, experienced women are leaving the tech industry to take positions in other industries or on other career paths. There must be dedicated efforts to retain women in tech because these women are not only the role models for the women in the Upstream efforts, but they are also the women who will attract additional women to a company. In general, women, and minorities, will not bring another woman or minority into a company where they feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, not a fit for the culture, harassed or that they are not on equal pay footing. If we are not working as hard at retaining women and minorities, as we are at developing a pipeline, the pipeline will not be filling projected empty positions, but will only be refilling current positions.
Q2. The diversity issue in the Tech Community has existed for a long time why do you think it is finally receiving the attention it deserves?
I think the primary reason is that there are finally women willing to speak up. Each woman or minority who speaks up about the issue gives permission for others to do so. With each voice that is raised, the issue gets more attention and more action is demanded. While tech likes to think it lives in a bubble and are the leaders of everything that happens in the world, the reality is that sociological, political and economic factors outside the tech “bubble” are bringing pressure to bear on diversity and inclusion within the industry. In addition, the stark reality of the number of current and future positions that cannot be filled with trained technologists is making people realize that they have to be more inclusive or they will never fill critical positions. Failure to fill those positions could spell economic disaster for some companies. Diversity and inclusion is no longer just a social imperative. It is an economic one.
Q3. Diversity is often pitched as the right thing to do but there are also solid business reasons for an inclusive team. Why don’t we hear more about that?
Great unintentional segue from my last answer! Because emotional or social imperative messaging is often easier than getting people to pay attention to business statistics. The few published studies get lost in the large number of stories of harassment, pay gaps and bias. We need to be talking more about the business reasons for inclusive teams. It has been repeatedly proven that diverse and inclusive teams produce better products and services. Companies would do well to pay attention to that research and take action accordingly.
Q4. The Women in Tech Summit you founded takes a different approach from the standard conference full of “talk at you” presentations. Why did you feel it was important to offer a something different for the summit?
Action does not happen when someone just “talks at you”. Action evolves from conversations and connections. When we founded the Women in Tech Summit, we had two overarching objectives:
- Provide a place where women working on both the technical and the business sides of technology and at all levels in their careers could come together and build stronger and broader networks as they inspired and educated one another,
- Demonstrate, through our programming, that working in tech is more than writing code.
It was important to us that we provide an environment and programming that fosters positive action – whether it was someone learning a new skill, hearing about a trend in technology, making a connection to help them find a new job or building relationships with more like-minded women. We work diligently to ensure that attendees walk away from our conferences with positive, actionable items they can implement to further their careers and that inspire them to stay in tech and bring more women into tech.
Q5. One cause cited for the lack of diversity is unconscious bias. What can Founders do to become more conscious?
Be more conscious. It seems like a simplified answer, but it really is the only true answer. Making a concerted effort to be more conscious and to implement programs and processes that help recognize and eliminate bias is imperative. It is also a necessity that founders create a culture that does not allow bias, harassment, intimidation or other negative traits to exist within a company. They have to be explicitly clear that those things are not acceptable. They have to create a comfortable space where people can speak up when it does occur and that is quickly addressed.
Founders also have to be willing to be open and transparent about their efforts and, especially, about their mistakes dealing with this issue. One of the most forward-thinking and successful founders I know is Wil Reynolds of Seer Interactive. He has created an amazing company culture. Everyone who knows him will tell you that Wil is one of the most fair and self-aware leaders they know. Yet, even he makes mistakes. He was brutally open and honest in a recent post about his own struggles with bias. This is how more Founders need to be. The more openness and transparency and communication they have with each other and the industry as a whole, the more we will move toward true diversity and inclusion.
Q6. If people want to get in touch with you or learn more about the Women in Tech Summit, how can they do that?
People can learn more about the Women in Tech Summit through our website http://womenintechsummit.net/ and by signing up for our email list (the link is on the website home page). They can also follow us on Twitter – @WomenTechSummit on Facebook – The Women in Tech Summit and on Instagram – WomeninTechSummit or they can email me at email@example.com
Speaking of TechGirlz, I would also encourage everyone to take a look at http://www.techgirlz.org/ All of the post expense proceeds from the Women in Tech Summit support TechGirlz ongoing mission to provide free programming that inspires girls to explore the possibilities of technology.