“This room is Philly,” Mogulette CEO Brigitte Daniel said before a room full of technologists and entrepreneurs in the gym of the Bok building in South Philly. “This is what we look like.”
The room she was talking about was Philly Startup Leaders‘ Founder Factory kickoff event: the Diversity Dinner, a new addition to the conference that on Wednesday sat some 120 folks down from all over the tech scene to address one of the toughest question for most tech markets: how do you tackle the industry’s evident and painful diversity challenge?
Mayor Jim Kenney did one of his tech scene drop-bys and gave diversity a shoutout as both the industry’s biggest challenge and a business opportunity. “It’s the smart thing to do from a business perspective,” Kenney said in reference to diversifying the workforce. “There’s no downside.”
Councilman Allan Domb followed Kenney, saying that tech is responsible for 14,000 jobs in Philly.
(BTW, Domb also broke the news that City Council will be partnering with nonprofit Coded by Kids to help fund four new high school coding programs. More on that as it develops.)
Earlier in the week, a community member who requested not to be named said the Diversity Dinner struck her as sidelining the diversity discussion in relation to the bigger push that is Founder Factory. “It feels like, ‘We’re cool and diverse but like, in this one corner over here,’ she said.
“This is just a different conversation,” said Philly Startup Leaders’ president Brock Weatherup, when challenged with that opinion. “Today is about how can you address the issue of diversity within startups. But the two [events] are not in competition.”
The diversity in the room struck a good chord with Philly Mag’s business reporter Fabiola Cineas.
— Fabiola Cineas (@FabiolaCineas) December 7, 2016
Same here, Fabiola.
After dinner was had, folks from the tech scene hunkered down around different vertices of the diversity challenge in tech. Led by 16 discussion leaders, they traded war stories and discussed best practices. Here are some of their final thoughts we felt were actionable.
- Help grow tech education. It could be the silver bullet. Expanding tech education efforts will lead a more diverse workforce down the tech path. What can you do? Donate to a nonprofit or volunteer to teach a tech class if you know your stuff.
- Offer diverse mentorship. A diverse community benefits from having diverse examples of success to look up to. Take on a member of an underrepresented group in tech as your protégé. Share with them how you got to where you are.
- Start a program to increase the diversity of your team. If it doesn’t already exist, talk to management about why it’s important and what it should look like. Maybe it’s an outreach program to diverse communities or appointing an in-house system to monitor diversity. Here’s what one design agency, Interactive Mechanics, learned from trying to make its hiring processes more inclusive.
- Put yourself outside your comfort zone. Yes, talking about diversity isn’t everyone’s favorite subject, especially in an environment that’s not diverse. But no, that’s no excuse to avoid it. Expose yourself to diverse sources of information and push away what feels safe and cushy.
- Challenge exclusive hiring practices. As we’ve heard before, slashing biases is key to getting a diverse staff. And thus, “hiring for culture” can come at a price. Asking questions about how your company selects their next hires is one way to bolster diversity.