LOOP — Diversity in tech is an oft-discussed problem, but there's no silver bullet to solve it: so on Thursday the Motorola Mobility Foundation and Lenovo organized a panel of tech professionals and nonprofits to discuss the nuances of building a diverse workforce.
Held Feb. 18 at the Moto Store, 108 N. State St., speakers from Lenovo, Motorola Mobility, ARA and more spoke candidly about the complexities of integrating people of different backgrounds into the homogeneous corporate world.
When asked to define diversity, Seth Smiley-Humphries, global diversity director at Lenovo, said the concept doesn’t stop at race: it also includes gender, sexual orientation and ways people choose to define themselves.
“The identities that we all claim around race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, [plus] where we grew up — all those kinds of things impact how we think and our experiences,” Humphries said.
Though companies with more women in leadership have been shown to be more profitable, the same return on investment metrics need to be measured and highlighted for people of color, and other groups to prove to companies that they should hire employees of different backgrounds, said Courtney VanLonkhuyzen, executive director of the Motorola Mobility Foundation & Motorola’s lead legal counsel.
The panelists shared stories of difficult workplace situations they have encountered, ranging from women feeling pressured to hold back on discussing their children at the office to a generational misunderstanding between a millennial and her older manager.
Sandee Kastrul, president of i.c. stars, told the story of a programmer and i.c. star alumna who had nearly lost her job because of misunderstandings among her employees and her older manager that had to be addressed by the company’s CIO.
“Nobody had asked about her experience before,” Kastrul said. “The reason why she wasn’t engaging with her team was that she was trying to be respectful by not talking to them at all. A bridge needed to be built here.”
When one audience member suggested that hiring a diverse team members should be tied to promotional or monetary incentives, VanLonkhuyzen said implementing unconscious bias testing and collecting employee feedback can help managers pay closer attention to their bias “blind spots.”
When it comes to cultivating talent, the panelists agreed that starting early was key.
Megan McCann co-founder of ARA, an organization for mentoring women in technology, suggested that parents’ choice in toys could help influence how children perceive different fields, adding that toys given to boys are different than those given to girls. According to VanLonkhuyzen, the Motorola Mobility Foundation has worked with education nonprofit Citizen Schools for three years to engage underserved public school students on the city’s South and West sides with STEM fields.
Though there is not a single solution for fixing the tech industry’s diversity issue, Kastrul told the audience that she was tired of hearing companies say they cannot find suitable candidates of different backgrounds. Rather than recruiting from the small pools of diverse candidates at colleges, Kastrul suggests looking within different communities, because the problem solvers within those areas could make for good engineers, entrepreneurs and technologists.
“Traditionally as companies, we think of 'underserved' [groups] where we do our charity work,” Kastrul said. “We don’t think of underserved folks as people we work alongside and that paradigm is what has to change.”
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: