The often-used terms diversity, equity, and inclusion have distinct meanings. Here’s why that matters, and how they work together.
Diversity. Inclusion. Equity. These words and the issues they point to loom large in tech. It’s hard to go a week without reading an article about a company touting its dedication to diversity, while another is called out for tolerating oppressive comments and workplace practices.
From 2014–2016, Google spent $265 million to increase its diversity numbers (to little avail), a number that has become even more well known after the company recently fired an employee who wrote a memo against diversity efforts. In a 2017 survey of tech employees, 72% reported that diversity and inclusion was important to their company. In another report, which surveyed over 700 startup founders, 45% of respondents reported that they talked about diversity and inclusion internally in the last year. The majority of participants in that survey believe that the tech industry’s employee makeup will be representative of the U.S. population in 2030, though that’s a far cry from where we are now.
With all this talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in tech, there is no better time to dig deep and establish shared, fundamental understandings of these terms and their meanings. In my work as a DEI facilitator working with tech companies and in many less formal conversations, I’ve found that there’s widespread confusion. People get tripped up not only on definitions, but on how to use these terms to create goals and action plans for themselves and their organizations. When we can’t get on the same page, we can’t take the next step. So let’s start at the beginning and create a shared understanding of DEI together.
In the past few years, much attention has been drawn to the dearth of women and people of color in tech-related fields. A recent article in Forbes noted, “Women hold only about 26% of data jobs in the United States. There are a few reasons for the gender gap: a lack of STEM education for women early on in life, lack of mentorship for women in data science, and human resources rules and regulations not catching up to gender balance policies, to name a few.” Federal civil rights data further demonstrate that “black and Latino high school students are being shortchanged in their access to high-level math and science courses that could prepare them for college” and for careers in fields like data science.
As an education company offering tech-oriented courses at 20 campuses across the world, General Assembly is in a unique position to analyze the current crop of students looking to change the dynamics of the workplace.
Looking at GA data for our part-time programs (which typically reach students who already have jobs and are looking to expand their skill set as they pursue a promotion or a career shift), here’s what we found: While great strides have been made in fields like web development and user experience (UX) design, data science — a relatively newer concentration — still has a ways to go in terms of gender and racial equality.
General Assembly is an international community, made up of over 1 million technologists, entrepreneurs, business leaders, educators, and creators from all over the world. GA was was founded on a global vision of the world that represents how people today work and live — and it’s clear that the future of tech, innovation, and entrepreneurship will only reach its full potential through a commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Our community gathers at many of the most diverse and multicultural cities in the world, like Atlanta, London, Los Angeles, New York, Singapore, Sydney, and Toronto. We strive to ensure that the GA community is not just a reflection of the world today, but of the world we want to see in the future.
Tom Ogletree, Director of Social Impact at General Assembly, presents our Opportunity Fund program at MIT’s Inclusive Innovation Conference. Photo: Dominick Reuter
General Assembly has an ambitious vision for the future. We’re working toward a world in which we can close the global skills gap, ensuring that everyone — regardless of social or economic barriers — has access to the training they need to pursue a career they love. To achieve this goal, we work closely with employers to understand the workforce they need, and then empower students and employees with these skills.
Mercedes Bent is the Global Director of New Ventures at General Assembly
In recent years, there has been an increased focus on diversity in the tech world, primarily on the need to bridge the gender gap by making tech a more available and welcoming industry for women and men of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
As a Black woman working at a tech education startup, I’m thrilled that these conversations are happening. Reading through statements by companies promising to make diversity a top agenda item, I’ve seen the appalling statistics: Only 24% of engineers graduating from undergrad are female, only 1% of all startup founders are Black, and so on. Great organizations have sprung up to address the dearth of underrepresented groups in tech including: Girl Develop It, Code2040, AllStarsCode, Black Girls Code, and Railsbridge, to name a few.