For former Capital One CIO Julie Elberfeld, the shift from engineer to tech diversity advocate is more of a natural fit than you might think.
“Technologists are problem-solvers,” Elberfeld told Technical.ly. “I think my approach to diversity and inclusion has been a little different than somebody maybe from a traditional human resources background, because I’m an engineer. My mind thinks differently about the problem.”
After a decade-long stint at the McLean, Virginia-based banking leader, where she also was an executive lead and senior vice president (and 2020 RealLIST Connectors honoree), Elberfeld left the company in June to work on diversity and inclusion in the tech industry full-time. Since last summer, she’s developed a small portfolio of clients for strategic D&I advising at a senior level, delivered a series of diversity-focused talks, and engaged in general work aimed at getting companies to rethink requirements for a four-year degree. In September, she started at downtown D.C.-based nonprofit Opportunity@Work, and is now serving as the org’s interim CTO.
After leaving Capital One, Elberfeld said she wanted to take some time to understand the root cause of a lack of diversity in the tech industry. Even after years of work advocating for inclusion efforts as the D&I lead, she felt like she was quoting the same numbers in 2020 that she had been in 2014.
“Technology is one of those fields that has tremendous amounts of open roles, and yet at the same time, is not creating the on-ramp and is kind of famous for including pedigree hiring practices in the way that talent is sourced into tech,” Elberfeld said.
Elberfeld was not alone in her push for change. At the same time she left, many large corporations and tech companies were making large commitments to increase diversity and inclusion efforts in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests that followed a string of police killings of Black Americans. Although it has already been a year, Elberfeld said it’s too early to measure the progress of those initiatives, given the complexities of the problem.
"I firmly believe that the best future is going to be one that’s very impacted by technology, but needs to be very thoughtfully created by a very diverse workforce that represents all of us."
“You have to go from that intent to strategizing about how you actually create action…It is a journey and it really takes cycles to go through breaking down the problem into root cause and figuring out where you can focus, and then applying action into servicing the results that you actually want to see,” Elberfeld said. “And those things take time.”
But there is still much to be done across the industry. Elberfeld said that she’s seen how many organizations and businesses have made the mistake of trying to be better than competitors or have better numbers than the previous year. She said that in order for real change to occur, industry leaders need to come together to discuss potential solutions, instead of working against each other or attending events that aren’t engaging and encouraging collaboration.
“I didn’t see the collaboration that could have occurred where CIOs and CTOs could come together and say, ‘Look, all boats rise if we change the diversity mix of this industry, all boats rise if we’re more welcoming and we invite more people into this career,'” Elberfeld said. “We could fill our open jobs, have a more diverse and innovative workforce if we all work together. What are the big ideas that we could fund collectively that could really move the needle?”
Once her time as interim CTO is complete, Elberfeld said she’s looking to shift her focus towards being an instigator of the collaboration she’s craving. She added that she’d like to spend some time thinking about her assets as a technologist, and how she’s best suited to work on diversity issues and encourage people to come together for problem-solving.
“It ultimately has such an impact on the quality of technology that we’re creating for the future,” Elberfeld said. “I firmly believe that the best future is going to be one that’s very impacted by technology, but needs to be very thoughtfully created by a very diverse workforce that represents all of us.”-30-