repaint tomorrow

Women of color who work in tech imagine a more diverse industry

Election results aside, the future is still female.

On Tuesday at Fusion’s Real Future Fair, a roundtable of women of color (no more manels!) discussed gender, race, politics, and set fire to the “special snowflake” tech companies that think they’re above diversity.

Fusion Editor-at-Large Alexis Madrigal moderated a panel that included Erica Joy Baker of Slack, Candice Morgan of Pinterest, Karla Monterroso of Code2040, Maira Benjamin of Pandora, and Tiffany Price of the Kapor Center for Social Impact. The roundtable also featured two empty chairs so audience members could join in.

As Erica Joy Baker pointed out, diversity talks are routinely limited to simply trying to get women and people of color in the door, ignoring the way insular culture isolates them once they are there.

“When they hire these people from colleges, they leave them at the bottom of their organization,” Baker told the audience. “And suddenly, you see all the people of color, all the marginalized people at the bottom…you don’t see them rising to the top level, the executives [or] board members.”

“Isolation is a key killer to diversity and inclusion efforts,” Tiffany Hood agreed.

Another major talking point was the fallacy that hiring for diversity is somehow at odds with trying to find the best talent out there.

“It is a false juxtaposition,” Karla Monterroso said. “When people tell me ‘oh, we don’t wanna lower the bar,’ the first thing I say is ‘well, tell me where the bar is.’ The second that I do that, they change the conversation. You’re science-ing your way out of a social conversation.”

Tech companies will sometimes mask social prejudices by saying that applicants lack “hard tech” skills. Essentially, this becomes a way of filtering applicants according to culture fit.

“The difference between ‘they can code’ and what is believed to be a person who is good at coding often is a cultural choice,” Monterroso explained.

One of the best discussions of company culture fit came from Pandora’s Maira Benjamin, a 30-year veteran of the tech field:

Benjamin encouraged women and people of color to not conform when they find companies aren’t genuinely encouraging diversity.

“Go to the companies that have the culture that you want,” she said.

Ultimately, the roundtable agreed, diversifying the tech world requires individual people making personal changes first within themselves, and then the industry as a whole.

“People have to get through their fears and start connecting with people who don’t look like them on a real level,” Baker said.