Posts Tagged 'diversity in tech'

Tech Diversity Includes More Than Gender

Let’s not limit the #GoogleMemo debate and tech diversity issue simply to gender. While Google engineer James Damore ignited a firestorm around the already simmering gender diversity in tech issue, gender isn’t the only area where tech companies are lacking accountability.

The tech industry has a lot to answer for in terms of racial, ethnic, age as well as gender diversity. Yet, it’s pace to address those issues has been almost glacial.

Flashback to 2014

This issue first burst into public consciousness around 2014, with the public release of diversity data (i.e., racial, ethnic and gender breakdowns of tech workers—note age data was not included.) For an industry so ubiquitous in contemporary society, the results were both shocking and shameful. Those results looked something like this, as we reported in a previous post.

USA Today reported that one percent of Google’s tech staff are African-American, while two percent are Hispanic. Yet, these groups comprise 12 percent and 16 percent, respectively, of the total population. Asians, who comprise 12 percent of the US population, represent 34 percent of the company’s tech workers. Similarly, 83 percent of Google’s tech workers internationally are reported to be male. When non-tech positions are included, male workers still dominate, at 52 percent

In the same year, a Tech Times story described Apple’s workforce as composed of 70 percent men, 30 percent women. It also described the ethnic make-up as 55 percent White, 15 percent Asian, 11 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Black, 2 percent Mixed Race, and 9 percent undeclared.  *These figures were said to include employees of their retail stores.

Back then, we noted that Fortune magazine offered the most extensive review of tech companies and diversity.

Fast Forward to the Present

Since then, both the EEOC and the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as Rev. Jesse Jackson,  have drawn attention to and prompted some action on this issue. Yet, except for some high profile hirings at companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Intel, etc., the overall diversity profile of major tech companies remains largely unchanged.

Yes, the leaders of these companies—sensitive to optics and wary of regulation—have taken some steps aimed at diversity. These include sponsoring tech boot camps, hosting gender and diversity meetings, and even developing some campus partnerships with universities serving largely underrepresented groups, especially African-American and Latino students. (Not to mention the high-profile hirings mentioned above). Yet, very little has happened operationally in these companies—except apparently to make even the discussion of diversity more contentious among insiders.

Diversity Doesn’t End with Gender

The truth is due to the size and impact of tech companies on American and global cultures, diversity in tech is effectively the civil rights issue of our era. African-American, Latinos, and non-native tech adults (read, older) cannot afford to relent on this issue. It has been shown time and again that diversity in tech isn’t simply a “pipeline” issue that will be resolved with more STEM classes for young people, more boot camps, or more  diversity meetings—all of which are overall helpful. What will move the needle and change the daily picture in these companies is more diverse hiring—including African-Americans, Latinos, Baby Boomers, etc.—individuals already educated, trained and with valuable work experience in the fields needed throughout the tech sector—in both tech and non-tech positions. Only then can we expect to see the kind of dynamic culture shift that a diverse world demands and that an industry that prides itself on “disruption” should wholeheartedly embrace.

P.S. Over the past few years, we’ve written a lot on diversity in technology and public relations. Please be sure to check out our earlier posts.

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The Perennial PR Problem: Tone-Deaf Companies, Tone-Deaf Messages, Tone-Deaf Workplaces

The long-standing, and often contentious issue of diversity in the media industries (news, PR, advertising, social media, etc.), was raised anew in a recent spate of events. Of course, diversity in these industries, as well as in tech, has long been an issue close to our hearts. We’ve blogged about it, advocated for it, and been adherents to the practices and principles of diversity for a very long time. Yet, as we are frequently reminded, many of our major companies still apparently don’t subscribe to the importance diversity in key parts of the workplace. A few recent examples come to mind … (Mind you, while we do not know for certain that any of these examples are not the creation of “diverse” work teams, you’ll see why we have our suspicions when you examine the evidence.)

First, probably most spectacularly is the video commercial released by Pepsi, quickly tagged the #PepsiKendall ad, featuring top model Kendall Jenner. As you’ve probably already seen or heard, the commercial, although pulled from circulation almost immediately after its release, featured Jenner, abandoning her high-fashion photo shoot and blonde wig to join a passing multiracial, multicultural street protest conveniently passing by. After some lingering glances at an attractive male within the protest group, she quickly circulates through the crowd joining the front lines, where she ostensibly leads the group until they meet up with a line of waiting police officers who, as Stephen Colbert has described them, look every bit “the world’s least intimidating police force.” Bottom line, Kendall hands the cop a Pepsi, they both smile, he looks at the other cops down the line, then drinks the Pepsi while Kendall leads the other protesters in a rousing round of cheers. We’ll stop the action here, but we hope you see the problem. The Internet certainly did.

Within hours, a storm of protests, mocking and mimicry of the ad broke out on social media, causing such a furor that Pepsi pulled the ad and issued an apology—to Kendall Jenner, that is, for “placing her in that position.” For the rest of humanity who were offended and weren’t a paid part of the ad, Pepsi issued this rationalization:

This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey,” they said in a statement.”

And regarding the creative development of the ad, they added this:

The creative showcases a moment of unity, and a point where multiple storylines converge in the final advert. It depicts various groups of people embracing a spontaneous moment, and showcasing Pepsi’s brand rallying cry to ‘Live For Now,’ in an exploration of what that truly means to live life unbounded, unfiltered and uninhibited.”

Where do we begin to unpack what went wrong here? Let’s start by raising the question we first posted in a tweet immediately after we head of the furor:

For us, this ad immediately raised the question of diversity on the team who created it—not to mention the marketing and other pros who approved it. What is it they missed that the rest of the world found immediate outrage in? This, we think, is the saddest part of this debacle: that highly paid professionals in major corporations and professional services agencies couldn’t see the offensive nature of this ad.

Any team member schooled in media stereotypes and commercial (cultural) appropriation–which should be everyone involved in creative development as well as the marketing of brand images–could have advised Pepsi to steer clear of its approach, for the clear reason it appears to trivialize people’s struggles for social justice and human rights. Certainly, we think, most persons of color involved in the creative development and marketing of corporate and brand messages (but perhaps not all), should have foreseen the trouble with this ad; so, our guess is that none played any major role in the creation of the spot. So instead what we got was among the worst demonstrations of what insular, self-perpetuating kinds of privileged and homogeneous teams produce for the rest of us. The ad looks good and paints a “pretty” multiethnic picture, but is completely devoid of any real sensitivity to the often life and death circumstances, struggles and ideologies that drive people to protest in the streets.

The lack of authenticity in any part of the #PepsiKendall ad is antithetical to the very democratization of media and media messages that social media has been so effective in producing in the US and globally.”

Yet, sadly, this misguided advertisement doesn’t stand alone. Not long before, but to much less, but surely well-deserved furor, the Switzerland-based company Nivea quickly dropped its ad touting “White is Purity” for its skin creams. We’ll just let the Internet make our case from here …

And, ironically, the backdrop for all this uproar over media messages and images was the very real-life ongoing saga at Fox News regarding sexual harassment and gender discrimination against its female employees.

Finally, as if to show that no contemporary industry is immune to calculated colorblindness and insensitivity, the fashion industry produced this outrage a short time ago. It’s what we called some of the worst kind of commercial/cultural appropriation, as this remnant from international slavery–a face mask forced upon workers in the fields to prevent them from eating corn and other crops they were being forced to harvest—was re-created as “fashion” for adornment on the runway.

One of the PR lessons that all these corporate affronts, miscalculations and misjudgments tells us is that despite the current “zeitgeist” toward diversity, human rights and social justice that many companies are clamoring to tap into, too many of these companies remain bastions of privilege, homogeneity (in regard to race), and social and cultural isolation. One thing many public relations professionals have understood for decades is that sometimes the greatest challenge or threat to good PR isn’t external, it can be internal, exemplified by tone-deaf companies, tone-deaf work environments, and tone-deaf messages—often with toxic results.

Don’t Undervalue the Expertise of Baby Boomers

In PR, technology or anything else

Proud to be in business

 

It certainly wasn’t the first time it’s happened. We were sitting in a seminar about PR 2.0, digital PR and content marketing, etc., when one of the panelists began holding forth on marketing to Millennials. As she began talking about Gen-Xers, then Millennials (she, herself, clearly being one of the two), she announced how much they love “authenticity,” and conversely, hate “marketing and spin.” She then gave the requisite nod to Baby Boomers, asking if there were any “Boomers” in the room, adding condescendingly, “I love them.” So it began …

As she continued, she gave an example of “marketing spin” from a high-end, luxury auto brand, describing its auto-industry jargon as almost unintelligible. This, she more or less declared, was the kind of marketing-speak perpetrated by Baby Boomers that Millennials had come to deplore. Sprinkled in between were plaudits about the necessity for transparency in business, with a passing reference to her own marital woes and even infidelity. At another point she laughed and denounced what appeared to be an obvious misspelling of the word “command” (spelled ‘COMAND’) on the auto company’s website. In the meantime, from the start of her profanity-laden presentation, some of us couldn’t help but be struck by the continuous misspelling of the word “Millennials” (displayed throughout her slides as “millenials.”) Need we say more?

It’s become vogue in some circles of media, PR and technology to bash Baby Boomers as somehow out of step, out of date, and whose expertise is now expired (even if one of them happens to be your boss). And sadly, except perhaps at the C-suite level—these same industries of PR, social and digital media, and technology, etc.—are giving increasing deference and higher visibility to those espousing such cliché notions. Well, we understand why—it’s all about the dynamics of marketplace. According to the Case Foundation, Millennials now make up a majority of the workforce: 53.3 million, or 1 in 3 American workers. Nonetheless, we wanted to be among the first to denounce the underlying fallacy behind this trend of ‘dissing’ Boomers. (BTW, think we’re alone? Check out this post about the “age” problem in the advertising world.)

Sure, at this site we’re mostly Boomers, but that’s not the critical point. The critical point is today we’re giving more and more credence to and putting more of these “youth” marketing (or should I say anti-marketing) masterminds on a pedestal, not bothering to question in even the slightest the real value of what they’re saying or the consistency in the standards that we normally apply to good marketing and good business. (Is it really necessary or appropriate to explain your marital infidelity or use profanity to punctuate each point to demonstrate “authenticity?” Isn’t one misspelling in professional copy as bad as another?)

Without pillorying anybody, we simply want to point out that while Baby Boomers have been party to many things that need fixing in this world, they’re also responsible for some of the advances that have radically changed the world for the better on many fronts—socially, politically, economically, technologically, culturally, etc. And while others or now picking up the mantle, many Boomers continue to be engaged and involved in advancing our respective fields. We’re not all on the march to retirement. We know, for example, those of us behind PRDoctorChicago, take considerable effort to stay current in communications technology and trends, not only for our own expertise, but for the benefit of our clients.

So, despite the growing trend to associate everyone over 40 in PR, media and technology as modern-day dinosaurs, let’s recognize that many Boomers in these fields have gratefully accepted the challenge to learn new skills and up-end old ways of thinking to help pioneer a whole new communications industry; and that while these industries have no doubt evolved, we’ve evolved right along with them. Today many Boomers not only bring newly acquired technical skills and understandings, but also have the added value of proficiency in judgment and critical thinking that come with experience. Increasingly, gauging from business and industry headlines, these are assets in uncommonly short supply.  So, to our way of thinking, in a few words, the tagline to Robert DeNiro’s latest feature film, “The Intern,” says it all: “Experience never gets old.

Share your thoughts below.

A Growing Drumbeat: Diversity in PR and Tech Takes on Many Dimensions

Diversity-1

 

After our post last month on Diversity in PR and Tech, we were reminded that such a far-reaching subject has many diverse perspectives. We recently came across a few that give added dimension to the reasons why the status quo in these industries can’t remain. So here, within one post, is a range of viewpoints on the important issue of diversity in tech and PR.

First, PR Week gives us a summary of panel opinions on why the diversity gap exists in public relations and what must be done, from its PR Week conference in New York. Among the panelists, Shante Bacon, founder of 135th Street Agency, opined:

We don’t need a new generation of African-American interns and assistants; what we need is African-American EVPs, SVPs, people who have a seat at the table, who can make decisions and who are trusted to manage a budget and make strategic divisions.” Read more.

On the subject of diversity in tech, technology vet Mark Luckie, gives us an inside perspective on what it’s like to be a Black employee at a tech company.

The most impactful detriment to diversity in Silicon Valley is the idea of ‘culture fit.’ Employees are actively encouraged to suggest friends or former colleagues for open roles. The premise is if the employee and the candidate have a congenial relationship outside of the company, the new recruit is more likely to work well with other staffers. The recommended candidates are given preference or special attention during the recruiting process. It should come as no surprise then that there aren’t more applicants of color to select from.” More

Another technology veteran, Catherine Lundoff, reminds us that in technology, as well as in other industries such as PR, color may not be the only barrier to a diverse workforce:

In IT, it sometimes feels like everyone under the manager level is 35 or younger. In some shops, even being older than 30 is ancient. It’s a culture that doesn’t value older workers or older tech: anything old is obsolete, no longer new and shiny. Old machines, old software and old people are things to be replaced…” More

Of course, we knew we weren’t alone in the growing drumbeat for diversity in tech and PR, but it’s nice to be reminded. Feel free to share these viewpoints, or your own, in the comment section below.

How Tech (and PR) Companies Can Increase Diversity

A real-life parable on the importance of inclusion

diverse tech workers

We think that diversity in public relations and technology companies—two of the global world’s most thriving industries—is one of the most significant issues of our time. To that end, we write a good deal about the issue. Our post below, a real-life parable on the importance of inclusion, focuses on tech, but could as well be written about public relations today. As always, we welcome your feedback and comments at the end.

Given the opportunity, do you think most African American or Latino youth would opt for an entry-level job at McDonald’s or one in tech? Of course, the answer in our tech-driven world is a virtual no-brainer: most would no doubt choose the burgeoning world of technology. Which is what makes this story so important.

Diversity through Mentoring

Nearly two decades ago, at least one technology company took the initiative to offer a similar opportunity to a few talented high school students. One result of their pioneering and perseverance is Jessica L. Williams, a 34-year-old information networking and technology manager in Chicago.Jessica_intro With the aid of an early start, now at age 34, she’s comfortably immersed in middle management, with 15 years of experience in technology–eight of them as an information networking manager, and the last two working for one of the largest convention centers in the United States. How and why she got to her current position is an instructive lesson for both tech and PR—two industries now under fire for the inexplicably low representation of women and minorities within their ranks. It’s worth noting here that Williams is an African-American woman, whose life experience contradicts the oft-heard canard that there aren’t qualified African-American techies out there. The point is these industries have to do more to develop and/or find diverse candidates.

Back in the 1998, during the early phases of the dot-com boom, an upstart technology firm, SDI Solutions, took the initiative to offer promising high-school students their first exposure to the fields of business and technology through the firm’s First Chance Initiative. Williams was one of those students. A junior at Whitney Young High School at the time, she had no idea what the technology field had to offer, as she hadn’t ever known anyone who’d had such a career. She only knew that she was good at math and science, and that people at school urged her to follow the tech path. The downside—she thought—was that she’d have to give up her job at McDonald’s, which provided additional income that she and her family truly needed. (Williams was parented by a single grandmother). Fortunately, she discovered that First Chance was a paid internship. As she would also learn, it also offered her tutoring and mentoring in a transformative experience that came to be a defining moment in her path to a career.

Finding a Niche in a Varied Industry

As an intern, my first introduction to a technology career was in marketing, then later coding. It was only by talking to people on the job that I learned about information systems technology [as a career option].”

Williams also found other supports at SDI, which led to her scuttling her plans for a post-graduation pre-med education in college, and put her on a path through business and marketing, coding, technology networking and systems design—all within the same tech company—during the heady days of the dot-com boom. Those varied work experiences led her to her niche in information systems networking. She finished her Bachelor’s degree with a concentration in business, with emphasis on technology. The company also provided support in her senior year of college to become a Cisco-certified networking associate. In all, through a series of progressive work and learning experiences, she became an established technology veteran with more than a decade of career stability at the same company.

Which is not to say the path to her current position as Technology Infrastructure Manager at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center, was without challenges.

Challenging Workplace Insecurities


Jessica_talking2

My first [career] challenge was being typecast as a ‘young intern’.” As I grew professionally, “it was hard for me to be taken seriously for project management and other leadership roles.

It was only through proving myself by working on ‘special projects’ that I got the chance to show what I could do.”

One of her biggest challenges, she recalls—a challenge not uncommon to women, especially women entering the male-dominated fields like technology—was insecurity.

I had to learn to overcome the mentality that if I didn’t know something 100 percent initially, that I couldn’t do it. Instead I learned how to figure things out while working on the job.”

Asked about the current criticism of the tech industry as not being diverse enough and whether the dominant tech companies are prepared to live up to the corporate social responsibilities expected of other leading industries, Williams responds,Jessica talking 2

It doesn’t matter whether the tech industry is ready or not [to play a leadership role in social responsibility]; the social expectation is there, so the industry simply has to step up and meet [that societal expectation].”


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