The Digital Divide: How Can the Tech Industry Become More Inclusive?

The Digital Divide: How Can the Tech Industry Become More Inclusive?

As companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Apple release their hiring data figures, the Twitter-verse explodes with commentary on the lack of diversity in the industry. This is not a new problem, but there should be new solutions. How can tech and American entrepreneurship be more inclusive?
Keen: So we have an interesting panel of people, some people from private companies, some public interest people. I thought, to begin, we can start at the end, with Danae. You might very briefly introduce yourself, and then just—I don’t know what the digital divide means, so you might just explain what, in your mind, what it is.
Ringelmann: Hi, I’m Danae Ringelmann. I’m one of the founders of Indiegogo. I started Indiegogo because I wanted to right a wrong, which was inefficient access to capital, which, that problem sounds nerdy, but at its core, the impact of it was that certain people had opportunities to make their dreams happen and most of the rest of the world didn’t. And so I wanted to use technology to change that and literally create an equal opportunity playing field for all people to bring their ideas to life, or at least have an equal, fair shot at it, and then for all people to fund what matters to them. So, just as everybody should have a chance to bring their ideas to life, everyone should actually be able to have the opportunity to shape the world around them and decide which businesses, which arts, which causes and communities should thrive as well.
So that’s why I started Indiegogo, and now we’re in every country, millions of dollars distributed every week to entrepreneurs, artists, causes, activists, you name it. If it’s legal, people are raising money for it and funding it.
So the way I define the digital divide is—I actually don’t think about that term a ton either.
Keen: Well, we have to use it because that’s the one on the books. If you can come up with another one—come up with a better one then. What’s a better word?
Ringelmann: Inequality. Equal access. I think about us, what we’re using technology to do is create equal opportunity and equal access. It doesn’t necessarily—I guess what I think of is, I think of a world where when everybody has equal access and equal opportunity, and equal access to education so that they can use that opportunity, then we actually have a level playing field, and then the people that work the hardest and put in the effort do the best. And I think that—
Keen: Give me an example of equal access when it comes to education. What is unequal at the moment? In tech, I mean, because this has to be about the tech industry.
Ringelmann: Not everybody knows how to code.
Mather: Or has access to classes that teach you how to code.
Ringelmann: But now with technology like Coursera and Khan Academy, that’s changing that. Now the question is how do we get our teachers to embrace that and learn it themselves so they can teach it and use the tools there to help their students. So that’s the answer. So when I think of industry becoming more inclusive, I think of both how we’re using technology to create business models that create change so that there’s less inequality, as well as, I also think about how you achieve that goal is just as important as that goal itself. And so like on Indiegogo, if you look at the venture capital world, only 3 to 13 percent of the venture-backed companies are run by women. You can talk ad nauseum as to what are the reasons why that percentage is not representative of the female population in the world, but if you look at Indiegogo, which is an equal opportunity funding playing field and you see that 47 percent of all campaigns that reach their funding target are run by women, that conversation about why venture capital is unequal is almost obsolete. It just shows that when you create a level playing field, that is the better solve.
And so that is our goal, but how we’re getting there is just as important. So at Indiegogo, while most tech companies are having diversity issues because it’s all dominated by men, at Indiegogo, almost 50 percent of our employees are women. And that is something that is important to us. Now we’re looking at ethnic diversity as well, and there’s other kinds of diversity that is not encapsulated by gender and ethnicity, but diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, etcetera.
Keen: Diversity of perspective, what does that mean?
Ringelmann: People with different life experiences, people from different countries, with different cultures. In order for us to achieve our objective of democratizing access to capital, where everyone has an equal opportunity all across the world, we need people internally that are fixing that and solving that to understand all of the world’s perspectives.
Keen: Laura, you’ve gone one step, I think, beyond Danae. You’ve come up with technology to actually address these issues of inequality. So you might define what you mean, or what in your mind the digital divide is, and then tell us what you’ve come up with and why it’s an important development.
Mather: Yes, so I see the digital divide as when there is someone who is qualified for a job, and in fact will excel in the job, but doesn’t get the job and isn’t even considered because of how they look, or their gender or their sexual preference; things that are totally irrelevant to the job are reasons why they don’t get it. Then that creates a divide. Those things shouldn’t have anything to do—
Keen: How do you know that, though? What evidence do you have?
Mather: There’s plenty of studies out there that show that people hire for who they want to hang out with. We spend more time every day with the people at work than we do with our families. We just do. During the week, we spend more time with people at work. And so if someone comes in the room and has a different religion than the hiring manager, for example, the hiring manager, unconsciously a lot of times, will decide not to hire them. And they’ll find some other reason why they shouldn’t hire them. And, again, it’s unconscious, but they end up hiring people who look a lot like themselves because they’re people that they want to hang out with.
Keen: I spent yesterday in the Ford factory, and I was struck by how different everyone looked. Is this a problem just with tech or across the economy?
Mather: It’s a problem across the economy. Finance has a big problem. In advertising, something like 3 percent of execs in advertising are women. And I mean let’s take a little poll here. How many of you have been in a situation where someone unexpected is in the room and then a really interesting solution to a problem comes up because they had a different perspective? How many people have experienced that? So I’d say 90 percent of you are saying that that’s happened. And that’s all about what the problem is with the digital divide is that when we have exclusivity and we’re not being inclusive, we’re losing perspective, which is exactly what the—
Keen: So what you’re saying is really the sort of privileged white men in Silicon Valley are hiring themselves, is that the problem?
Mather: They are. No, it’s absolutely true.
Keen: Does everyone agree with that? Just a matter of hands, who thinks that’s true?
Keen: Who thinks it’s not true? David, what do you think?
Mather: The white guy.
Keen: So you’ve come up with software, what, to point out that people are, what, racist, or sexist, or classist?
Mather: Yes, that’s really what I love to do. I love to point fingers. It makes me really happy. No, it doesn’t do that at all. So let me talk a little bit about my background, just to tell you how I got here. I have a PhD in computer science. My bachelors is applied math, so I’m very analytical. I worked for the National Security Agency; PRISM wasn’t going on then, when I was there. I really got into technology by joining eBay back in 2003, was one of the early members of their risk management team. So my background is actually in security. Started my own security company in 2008. It got to the point where it was protecting about 1.5 billion online accounts by 2012, for companies like Apple and Bank of America, a few others you may have heard of. We sold it to EMC in 2012, and at that point, I took a step back and I said how do I view my career, right? I was kind of having the mid-career crisis. And I realized throughout the entire spectrum of my career, but especially—Danae and I were talking about this backstage—in the startup world, there just wasn’t much diversity. And I wanted to help address that problem, and the way I solve problems is I build software. So it turns out there’s a lot of academic research out there on how to remove unconscious bias from hiring, from promotions, even from professional development. Right now it’s all implemented through classes—which is great. I love that companies do unconscious bias training. But the research shows, and my belief is that you can’t really train away unconscious bias. Plus, it’s not really scalable. If I try to go change the psychology of every person in this room, that’s going to be really hard. So why not take what we already understand really well and put it into software so that the processes either don’t let it happen—it does point out, it gives teachable moments. So, for example, in a job description, the more requirements you put in, the fewer women apply. Women think they have to meet all the requirements.
Keen: But how does the software work?
Mather: So in this example, as you’re building your job description in the software, maybe you put in three requirements, and when you go to put the fourth, it says, “Look, the more requirements you put, the fewer women are going to apply. Do you still want to do this?” Yes. Okay, that’s fine. You put in the fifth, “The more requirements you put in, the fewer women are going to apply. Do you still want to do this?” Yes. “Are you really sure you want to do this?” And it does other things too. There’s things on what are called male gender terms, things like ‘best of the best.’ When women see the term ‘best of the best,’ they tend not to apply to a job because they don’t feel like that fits them. And there’s nothing wrong with how women look at themselves. It’s just the way we perceive a culture based on a job description.
Ringelmann: I had a female engineer tell me the other day that when she sees—before we hired her at Indiegogo, when she was looking at different jobs—she’s an engineer, so she codes. Whenever she saw a job description that said “looking for rockstars or ninjas,” she immediately didn’t even apply.
Mather: Or ‘hardcore’ is another one.
Ringelmann: Right. Because it suggests a culture of—‘brogramming’ is the word used.
Mather: Yes.
Ringelmann: And then, the next level assumption she makes then is if it’s a bunch of guys just hanging out with each other, if something were to happen, like I got offended, no one would be there to have my back, and if I put up my hand and said, “That wasn’t okay that that guy called me that,” she would be ostracized. And then she would be turned into a problem employee, and then she would never be hired. I mean she would do all of that from seeing the word ‘ninja’ in the job description, and she’s like, “I don’t even want to go there.”
Mather: Yes.
Ringelmann: And companies do that. Sorry, I didn’t mean to—
Keen: So Chris, from Google, do you buy this stuff? Is this right?
Genteel: Well, I think Danae actually said it really well right upfront, around access to opportunity. I work at Google. Google’s mission, organizing the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful—
Keen: Is that a male ambition, or is it gender neutral?
Genteel: No, I think it’s pretty universal.
Keen: It’s ambitious, though.
Genteel: Yes, but I think what’s been insidious about the digital divide is it’s not just a hiring issue or an education pipeline issue, or a “we don’t have the right skills,” or “we don’t have the right partners in our supply chain across tech,” or “we don’t have the right networks of resellers,” or—it’s all of those things. It’s quite a systemic issue. And that’s, I think, when we have, and I think others who have taken a serious look at what is this digital divide and you step back and you say, wow, on all of the data, this issue is pervasive.
Keen: Why is the tech community worse than others? Is it because engineers tend to be male, or is it because—
Ringelmann: I don’t know if it’s worse.
Mather: I don’t think it’s worse than others. I mean finance, again, advertising—
Keen: Well, but I think, say compared to manufacturing, I think it’s worse.
Genteel: Yes, I think it’s a great question. I think a couple of things come to mind. I think historically in Silicon Valley, there’s been this idea of meritocracy that traces itself back decades and decades and decades. And I think that there have been other industries who have really embraced—
Keen: Do you think that the idea of a meritocracy is a kind of ideology, that it’s just a way of perpetuating a certain elite, or do people actually believe it?
Genteel: I think it’s an ideology that a lot of data has proven to be maybe not true, right? And so I think we have to go beyond ideologies and look at—I think there’s probably pretty broad agreement amongst a lot of people in this room that there is a problem, and the question is how do we get beyond the ideologies of, “Well, my door is open, but the right people aren’t walking through it.” We have to think, you know, well, why aren’t those folks walking through it?
Keen: Google is very well known as a company that’s really sort of compounded efficiency. It’s a very efficient company. Is there a connection between your commitment to efficiency and this attempt to challenge the gender divide, the divisive economy? Do you think it’s going to—you know, Danae seems to believe that it’s actually going to make us richer, that the economy will work better. Does it create more wealth or is it more of a justice issue?
Genteel: Inclusion is clearly going to create more wealth. And the flipside of that is the risk of not being inclusive across the industry. As an industry, we cannot have an employer and a user disparity or deficiency in 2042, when the nation is going to be majority minority, and when more of the world is brought online and is participating in the economy. So I think anyone who’s not taking inclusion seriously in what they do is going to have a serious risk to their business.
Keen: I work with Ericsson. They have a formal commitment, I think—I can’t remember; David might know—a commitment to having x percent, maybe 40 percent of their engineers by, I think it’s—their CEO came out with it, by 2020. What’s Google’s current gender balance, and do you have any formal goals here to commit to really change the company’s make up?
Genteel: Yes. So you can read all the statistics about Google’s gender balance across the world, and also our make up, our race, ethnicity—
Keen: What is it, though? What’s the balance?
Genteel: Does anyone know the numbers better than I do?
Mather: Yes, I know it. So in technology, I think Google’s between 18 and 19 percent women.
Keen: And does that make it better or worse than average in tech?
Mather: It’s right around average of the companies that have come out.
Keen: And best one—who’s doing well and who’s doing really badly?
Ringelmann: Indiegogo’s at 30-plus percent.
Keen: How many people work for Indiegogo?
Ringelmann: A hundred.
Keen: So that doesn’t really count. I’m talking about large companies.
Ringelmann: No, but if you want to have—
Keen: How many people work for Google? It’s 40, 50,000?
Genteel: Somewhere around there, yes.
Keen: I mean larger tech companies: HP, IBM, Google.
Mather: I don’t know for those larger companies. I do know, and it’s no offense to Jack, but Twitter is actually the worst on sort of the startup stuff. I think they’re at like 9 percent.
Keen: Why? That’s so weird, isn’t it, given how many women in particular use Twitter.
Mather: Yes, I’ve talked to some people there and they very much have the brogrammer culture there, and their interview process is all about sort of being a brogrammer and being part of that culture.
Keen: So, Chris, how does it feel to be average here? Because Google isn’t an average company.
Genteel: No, not at all, no. And when we released our numbers back in May, which prompted a great flood of other companies doing the same, I think we said just that. We’re not excited or proud of this.
Keen: What would you like to get up to? Forty percent by 2020?
Genteel: We haven't put out any percentage-wise goals.
Keen: Well, you can tell us. We won’t tell anyone.
Genteel: I think what we have seen is, and not just on the hiring front, but on all the fronts that are measured, we have a long way to go. We have to do some systemic things.
Keen: Well “a long way” means what? I mean talk numbers here, because Google represents a number. What are we talking, 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent? I mean you guys would like 50, right?
Genteel: Your employee base should reflect the diversity of your user base.
Keen: So it’s 50:50. Really, you’re at, what, 19 now, and you need to at least double.
Genteel: Is that your assessment?
Keen: That’s a rhetorical question.
Mather: I would like to say something here, though. Google actually was one of the things that inspired me to do Unitive. They came out with a study, again, I think in 2011 maybe, where women weren’t making it through the phone screen process. And so they actually did the data around why they weren’t and it turned out, in the phone screen, Google wasn’t asking quantitative enough questions. It was things like—this is way on the spectrum, but like, “How good of a programmer are you?” And, again, men tend to sort of boast and say, “I’m the best programmer ever,” and women are like, “I’m pretty good,” right? And so they weren’t getting through the process. So Google shifted the phone screens, based on data, to ask quantitative questions—“How many bugs do you have per lines of code? What’s your SLA on getting the bugs fixed?”—things that are both quantified and verifiable, and more women got through.
Keen: So is that the way, Chris? Is that how you’re going to do it, by changing the questions, or is there something more structural you think you can do?
Genteel: I think there’s a lot of things we have to do. So I think ensuring that every piece of our pipeline process filters out those kinds of unconscious biases are really important. There’s also a long-term education pipeline gap that we have that we have to be part of the solution—
Keen: What does that mean, education pipeline?
Genteel: It means that girls are dropping out of considering themselves for careers in STEM education before they get to high school.
Keen: And can you affect that?
Genteel: Yes. We just released a campaign called Made With Code. It’s a $50 million dollar investment by Google to partner with organizations locally to help drive the idea that young women can make and can create, and are important in the process of creating and making in the digital economy. And that’s a huge investment we’ve made. It’s one of many we’ll make. We think we can play a role in it.
Keen: You’re head of diversity markets in Google. How big is your group? How many people are in the diversity group at Google?
Genteel: We don’t really release numbers on that.
Keen: Approximately. Above 100?
Genteel: I have a team, personally, of about five people who are focused specifically on our market-facing initiatives, and that’s how does our business think about and become more inclusive in every way possible—so that’s everything from our supplier partners, the folks who are deploying our products in the field, because it takes thousands of small businesses to do the job to get Google stuff out to other small businesses—and how are we thinking about inclusion at every step of the way.
Keen: And are you part of HR or are you part of another group?
Genteel: Our whole diversity team is part of HR. But it’s a company-wide initiative, so everyone from Larry on down.
Keen: So we only have one mortician on this panel.
Page: Who would that be?
Keen: I can’t guess. But I still can’t understand how Marlin Page went from being a mortician to being CTO, or deputy CTO in Detroit, to now running Sisters Code. So I think you have one of the more interesting stories you might tell everyone.
Page: Sure. When I graduated from—well, let me go back a little bit further. When I graduated from high school—Cass Technical High School, by the way. I have to say that, world class high school. But I graduated from Cass Technical High School, and technology was not even a part of what I saw. I just didn’t envision going into technology. I never even talked about careers in technology. So I went off to college, Wayne State University, and mortuary science is what I was going to do. Just interesting—
Keen: Well that’s technology, isn’t it?
Page: It could be. It’s top secret. I can’t tell you. So I became—I was an aspiring mortician. And it was funny because I worked at a funeral home like on 7 Mile in Detroit, and down the street was a school called Ludington Middle School. So during the day I was a middle school teacher—substitute middle school teacher. Because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so—
Keen: Was there a digital division in morticians? Were there not enough women, or was it quite well balanced?
Page: There were actually not—no. I think there was one—no. Yes, I guess there was a divide there as well.
Keen: So too many men, not enough women.
Page: Yes.
Keen: Okay.
Page: So, anyway, I went on, I was working at a funeral home and then someone told me, “There’s a program in Farmington Hills where you can learn to program in seven different mainframe languages in 13 weeks. Do you want to do it?” Sure, why not? And so I went and I did that.
Keen: Well, but that’s the great question. You did it. A lot of women don’t. What distinguished you from other women that would have the nerve or the gumption or the ambition—
Page: Oh, because I believe I can do anything.
Keen: So you had more confidence than the typical girl, do you think?
Page: Yes.
Keen: And where’d you get that from?
Page: And I think that’s the piece we’re missing. Because we can expose, we can entice, we can say, “Here’s the job,” we can do all of that, but if you don’t believe you can do it, it doesn’t matter.
Keen: And were people telling you, “You’re an idiot, why are you doing something so silly”?
Page: Yes. And every—
Keen: And you needed the confidence, is that the key, you think?
Page: I needed the confidence, but I also needed another woman. And my mentor at the company—I mean I quit every day. Every day when I had bugs everywhere, you know, and to me it was like real programming, so COBOL, JCL, IMS, DB2, like the good stuff. And nothing would work for me. And every day, I would quit. I was like, “Today is going to be my last day. I’m not coming back tomorrow.” And the beautiful part is that I had this wonderful angel of a female, who was not technical. She just happened to hold an executive job in the company. But we connected, and every day she was like, “No, you’re not going to quit.” And so probably for the first ten weeks, I would quit every day. And so I think that helped me—
Keen: And so the gender thing was key, then? It couldn’t have been a man?
Page: No.
Keen: Why?
Page: Okay, I’m lying. I said that too fast. Because there was a guy too that helped a little. But it was something about this connection with this woman that made me really—I was in tune with her because like if she could do that, if she could do this, and there were other women, if they could do this, then I can too. Why can’t I? But I needed to see that. I needed to see another female. So like at our Sisters Code classes, we have female instructors and it does definitely make a difference.
Mather: Power of example.
Page: Yes.
Mather: It’s role models.
Page: Yes, right.
Keen: And so then you did that, and then how did you get to be deputy CTO?
Page: Well, I was at Compuware for ten years. That’s a local company, and we were in the suburbs, and I said, you know what, I’m quitting. I’m quitting now because I’ve been here—
Keen: Did you quit every day then?
Page: No, but I quit. I quit after ten years. I’m like, “You know, Pete, I want to be like you one day. Like you’re really, really rich and you’re doing cool things, buying hockey teams, and I want to do that. And I can’t do that working for you, so I’m going to start my own thing. Don’t know what it is, but I’m going to do that.” And before I could quit they pulled me back in, because we were moving to Downtown Detroit. Well, the make up of Downtown Detroit racially is much different than Farmington Hills. So the people in Detroit were like—
Keen: Explain. I don’t know what that means.
Page: At that time, I want to say Detroit—and I could be so wrong here—was 90-plus percent African American. Compuware was not a depiction of that at all. When you looked at our executive rank, there was me and one other lady, and I had just quit. So there was one person.
Keen: Do you see yourself—when you think of yourself in terms of ethnicity or gender, do you see yourself both as black and as a woman—I mean obviously you are both. But I’m saying does one become more important than the other when you’re working at an all-white company?
Mather: That’s a Terry Gross question.
Keen: Well, I’m trying to be Terry Gross.
Page: They’re both equally—no. They’re both important. And it depends on the setting, and it depends on what my intention is and what we’re trying to get done. So at Compuware, gender was huge, because they would say, “We have this great diversity,” but most of the women were in roles that were administrative assistants or things of that nature. So you’re not diverse. Sorry, you are not. So what do we do to change that?
However, as an African American woman, people in the company who look like me are going to come to me to say, “Can you help us?” So I was almost like the Malcolm X or Martin Luther King every day, because I’m there and I look like them and they see me doing something different. So, yes, the lady on the switchboard, of course she’s going to come to me, because I look like her.
Keen: And do you buy Laura’s thing with her software? Do you think that’s true?
Page: Yes. Definitely. I have a background in HR, and I have been in some closed-door meetings where we’ve had to have some sessions, because people are socialized differently and they do have some biases and they do come out.
Keen: So let’s finish your story. So you applied to the Detroit—
Page: No, trust me, I didn’t apply for that job.
Keen: They forced you?
Page: No, no one forced me. And I met the new CIO last night. Love her, and I’m like, “Oh, God bless you.” And I was only there for a year and a half. And what happened is Super Bowl XL was coming to town, and there was some coordination that needed to go on for technology behind that. And I just happened to be tapped to do that, and I was there for a year and a half. Really interesting, though—so forget Super Bowl. Well, Super Bowl was interesting, because you walk in a room where they think a) you’re a woman, you don’t know anything—and trust me, I know this, because people say some crazy things, like out loud. Like, I hear you. But they say things, and the look on their face, they don’t think you know about football. I do. So that was one thing.
But I remember, there was a guy who was the city treasurer, and my thing was, you know, my mom lives in the city and our property taxes are high, but she can’t even engage government via the internet. Can she pay her taxes online? And this man said to me, “Oh, Detroiters don’t want to do that.” So of course, you know, I had to make it—
Keen: Typical male thing, wasn’t it?
Page: Yes, typical male thing. So of course, I had to make it happen.
Keen: So your thing is you rise to the challenge.
Page: Yes.
Keen: You’re a feisty—
Page: You think so?
Keen: Well, but you’re saying, you are. You seem it. The red dress.
Page: I know, right?
Keen: And then what about Sisters of Code—no, it’s not Sisters of Code, it’s Sisters Code. What’s that?
Page: Sisters Code came about—I travel often, speaking with young girls about technology. So I am out on the road doing Microsoft’s DigiGirlz program, some other programs, and it’s “Rah-rah, yes, you can go into technology.” But like I have a 15-year-old. I don’t know what she’s going to do, but I can tell her, “Yeah, rah-rah.” And I said, you know, when we look at this digital divide, we are missing a population of women who already know how to work, we know how to multitask. We can pick up the kids, wash the dishes, we can cook food. We have been hired, fired, everything else, right? But we aren’t tapping into this workforce, where they can actually re-career into the field of technology. So we’re focused on the future. We hope these babies want to go into the field of technology, but what about women who are apt enough to do this. I did it, and I was embalming people.
Keen: And what about the entrepreneurial side? Brian, you’re at the White House. What have you learned from this panel so far that you didn’t know beforehand? You probably know everything, if you’re in the White House.
Forde: Definitely don’t know everything. I’m fascinated. I actually can’t wait to learn more about your software, because it’s something that I think is really important. And one of our initial partners in the White House Tech Inclusion Initiative that we launched a couple of years ago was Mitch and Freada Kapor, and she’s done a lot of research into this area as well. So I’m excited to see probably some of that research in an applied way in your software.
Mather: Let’s just operationalize it, right? I mean that’s what my goal is.
Ringelmann: And you just heard Megan Smith, who’s awesome. She’s all about talent inclusion.
Keen: I’m just curious, on the Megan Smith thing, is there too close a relationship between the current White House and Google in particular, and Silicon Valley generally? I know Obama has close relations. It does concern some people, I think.
Forde: Yes, I just don’t think it’s something we need to talk about on this panel, because we’re talking about the digital divide. But I think it’s super exciting to see that the president could choose a variety of candidates and he chose Megan Smith, the best qualified out there. And then if you look at it locally, when Mayor Duggan was in a real bind—I mean you can testify by where the technology stands, and when he needed to find the right person to take on this massive challenge, he picked one of the best women in the industry—best people in the industry.
Keen: So what’s your definition of the digital divide? What does it mean?
Forde: I’m not sure that—
Keen: It’s an old-fashioned term. I think there may be a better term.
Forde: Yes, and, honestly, I think we probably look at it from a—we’re not here trying to define what the digital divide is. I think what’s more interesting to think about is, you know, the President’s Council of Advisors for Science And Tech issued a report in 2012 and they said for the United States to maintain its global preeminence in science and technology, we need to have one million additional STEM undergraduates by 2022. The only way that’s humanly possible is not to recruit from what is currently in the tech industry, but expand that to represent all of America. And we have some challenges that we’re facing. You know, 50% of students drop out from their first year in college, out of a STEM program, to graduation, and so—
Keen: That’s generally, that’s not just women. That’s everybody.
Forde: Well, and it impacts women and minorities disproportionately, and the reasons for that are uninspiring introductory classes, lack of access to research opportunities or practical experiences like internships.
Keen: Why would that result in more women dropping out than men?
Forde: What do you guys think?
Ringelmann: Well, I’ll share a personal experience. I loved math and science growing up. I took all the AP classes, passed out of all of it. Got to college, and was completely undecided, had no idea what I wanted to do, and I was talking to an advisor and they said, “Well, you clearly have covered your math and science pre-reqs. Why don’t you look at these other subjects?”—which were not math and science. They could’ve easily said, “You clearly like math and science. Maybe that’s something you should go do.” And I’m not blaming them, because I was clearly an undecided freshman, but a little nudging—because I was, you know, you’re 18—
Keen: I understand, you know, if you have courses, if they’re uninspiring, but I’m just curious as to why it would lead to more women dropping out than men. Or do you think it’s just a general problem?
Forde: And the third one is insufficient focus on women and minorities. And so a great example that Maria Klawe from Harvey Mudd has done—and I think you should actually interview her, if you haven’t, on your show, to give it full justice of what she’s accomplished, because I won’t give it justice.
Keen: Yes, I’ve heard about—what do they do there?
Forde: Do you guys—
Mather: I was at an event—actually, Google sponsored an event with her last week. So she has taken Harvey Mudd, which is a science and technology college, and she took it, especially in computer science, but across the rest of the disciplines as well, from something like 15% women graduating from computer science, and now they range between 38–44% over the last four years. So it’s just been phenomenal. And they’ve done a complete—the things that are really interesting, especially with my software—because I have a hypothesis that if I can get diversity into the organizations, the cultures will change. It’s too hard to change culture from the top down. So I asked Maria, I said, “Given that you now have almost half graduating in computer science as women, has the culture changed?” And her comment was, “A computer science professor of 19 years at Harvey Mudd said to me, ‘Ten years ago, if you would have asked me if I would recommend my granddaughter go to Harvey Mudd, I would’ve said no way in bleep. Today I will tell you it is the first school I would recommend she go to.’”
Keen: So what have they done? What is the fundamental change?
Mather: They’ve done amazing things. They’ve changed the Intro to Computer Science course to actually be called Problem Solving in the World Using Computer Techniques. So it’s about problem solving. They have made it much more group focused—
Keen: And why is that—sorry to interrupt. Why is that more sympathetic to women?
Mather: I think mostly it’s a sort of community stereotype thing that when you hear the word ‘computer’ and ‘women,’ women are just sort of encouraged, from pre-kindergarten, that that’s not where you should go. So as long as they just shift the focus, they’re not immediately going to, “I don’t belong there.” So they’re not opting themselves out. They’ve made it more group oriented, they’ve done a lot of things, so.
Forde: One of the effective things they’ve done in the UK, in high schools in particular, to encourage more women and minorities to get into technology was not talking about the technology, but starting the conversation with, “What are the problems that you’re facing in your community? Okay, now that we have those out on the table, what are some ideas for some solutions that you could come up with?” Naturally, teenagers are going to talk about mobile applications. And so from there, they say, “Okay, if you had to build a mobile app, then you have to learn to code.” Okay, well, if I have to learn to code to solve the community problem, then I’m more interested in doing that, but you’re not just going to start me with, “Well, I want to learn to code to learn to code.”
Ringelmann: And when you get more inclusive, you start solving different and better, bigger problems, too, or just unique problems that are not getting solved. What’s cool is, on Indiegogo, we’re like a catalyst of catalysts, so we have people like Black Girls Code and App Camp for Girls, they’re all using Indiegogo to raise money to continue doing what they’re doing. And then we’re working with a lot of these organizations too, and one of them is Hackbright, which teaches people in certain—like they’re in finance, they just want to leave it because they want to solve problems, and it gives them a two-month boot camp. And I was talking to a bunch of the graduates there—and we’ve hired a few people out of there—and one girl was talking about how she’s trying to do a for doulas, which is like expecting mothers and doulas, because home birthing is on the rise, going natural is on the rise. Finding someone you trust to help you with a birth is a hard problem to solve, and why not use technology to do it? Probably would not cross the mind of most 22-year-old guys in computer science.
Keen: So, Brian, what’s the role of government here? When does private enterprise or private education start and government’s role stop? What can you do and what can’t you do? Because we all acknowledge there’s a problem. We all acknowledge it can be improved, and some people are doing a good job, some people are doing a less good job.
Forde: Well, I think what’s interesting has been our active role in convening, so using the White House as a place to attract both the companies and the nonprofits and the technologists to think through ways that we can address these issues, and then using the platform of the White House to help launch these initiatives.
Keen: Give me an example of how that works.
Forde: Sure. So with Level Playing Field, Mitch Kapor and Freada—
Keen: Were you in that? You were nodding.
Ringelmann: I know them. They actually work down the street. One of their board members is a guy named Bill Thomason, who started Wall Street Wizards, which I talked about this morning. I helped, as a teacher, teaching financial literacy and ownership to—anyway, totally random, sorry.
Keen: All right. So, continue.
Forde: No, absolutely, I mean they’re very well known and have been very effective, and that’s why we partnered with them. And so we hosted a workshop, and out of that workshop, there were about five different ideas that came out of it, and then we hosted the White House Tech Inclusion Summit, where we launched a lot of them. And so one of them is called US 2020. The goal of US 2020 is to get large tech companies to have 20% of their technical employees donate 20 hours of their time for mentorship in local programs across the country.
Keen: Are you in on that?
Genteel: I don’t know, is Google participating in that?
Forde: I don’t know if Google is, but there are a lot of other companies.
Genteel: Another program that you’re doing is the White House Economic Forums that are visiting city to city. So you were in Detroit last year with our local partners, the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce and—
Forde: Yes.
Keen: Marlin, what do you think government isn’t doing that they should be doing? You have an opportunity to tell Brian what he should be doing.
Forde: And it’s good to clarify between federal, state and local.
Keen: Right. Let’s say federal.
Page: We want federal? Because I could talk about local. No, seriously, I mean because we could point the finger all day—
Keen: I like pointing the finger.
Page: Yes, we could. And it’s really interesting, because I believe I was invited on this panel because Reverend Jesse Jackson, after you all disclosed your numbers, had an article in “USA Today” saying that he believes that tech diversity is the next Civil Rights issue. Well, what I did, of course, I—
Keen: Is that true, do you think?
Page: No. I wrote the “USA Today” back and said, “No.” And as an African American woman, I disagree. And I'm saying that because he did talk about what government is not doing. And I took the standpoint to say let’s talk about what we can do. So I don’t know that I need the government to tell me and my community—because at this point, it was a race thing. I don’t know that I need them to come into my community in Detroit to tell me what I need to do better. What I can do is—what I can do, as a code or a technology person, is to now go into the neighborhoods to expose the children to this. I don’t know that I need federal government to tell me I need to do that. So now I can go do that.
Keen: But you’re, as you’ve acknowledged, unusually self-motivated and unusually strong-willed and independent. I mean sometimes government can help get people off the fence who are less confident than yourself.
Page: Oh, definitely. I agree. But I do think that on a local level, it takes us. If we’re not in the room and we aren’t willing to speak up, if we are not—and then I think, coupled with local government, you know, we could move the world.
Keen: David has stood up, which means it’s question time.
Kirkpatrick: Well, that’s one reason I stood up, actually. But I’m very proud of this session. I think it’s a fantastic conversation. But I wanted to ask Chris a question. First of all, I think it takes a lot of nerve for Google to be at this session, and I want to congratulate you and thank you for having the nerve.
I mean Google is such a target and whipping boy, and the colossus that is changing so many things that it’s really healthy that the company has the culture of mixing it up in these dialogues.
But I had a specific question about this issue. And I think it’s fascinating what Laura and Danae were saying about these biased ways of—you know, this thing about ‘ninja,’ I never thought of that. But, you know, Google was famous for years for only hiring people who had straight As. That has got to be one of those same biased sort of things, and as I recall reading not long ago, that is no longer the case, is that right? And could you just talk a little bit about whether Google has changed some of its cultural expectations about its hiring practices?
Genteel: Well, I’m going to talk a little bit about myself for a second, and then some of the Googlers around me, as a way into this question. I’m someone who has been very blessed and has had a lot of wonderful experiences, but one of the things that I did do in high school and in college was work and put myself through school.
Keen: Where did you go to school?
Genteel: I went to Yale. I got there on the back of my mom, who was a single mom and kind of got me there, and then from that point forward, it was, as so many kids do, working your way through. And one of the disadvantages that you find, and this is what we see every day, is that the kind of experience that happens when you’re working and doing those jobs and putting yourself [through school] doesn’t necessarily translate into the kinds of things that industry is looking for. Whether that’s inside the tech industry or outside the tech—
Keen: What did you major in at Yale?
Genteel: I was a humanities major.
Keen: Oh my God.
Genteel: And, hey, that looks great, but what doesn’t really translate is, hey, I worked as a summer camp counselor, or I worked in my local church during the summers, and all the experiences in there. I don’t think that we’ve done enough to figure out what are those kinds of experiences doing to teach kids about entrepreneurship. I was a musician and I still am a musician. I was actively touring and recording and running a band. What did those experiences teach? You know, we work here locally with the Detroit Cristo Rey High School. Four days a week those kids go to school, and on the fifth day they intern with a local company, and they have really been thought leaders in how do we start to talk about what that kind of experience can give to a kid. But also, some of those kids are working 40-hour weeks outside of that, as short order cooks at their father’s restaurant and things like that, and we don’t really know how to talk about those kinds of experiences. And if we’re excluding those kinds of experiences—
Keen: ‘We,’ meaning Google, or culturally, generally?
Genteel: I think culturally, we don’t. I think big companies don’t. Those are not things that you’ll find on someone’s resume.
Keen: So how did you end up at Google, then?
Genteel: I actually got an internship while I was doing my MBA at the University of Michigan. And I had someone who—I was coming from outside of the industry. I was coming from the nonprofit industry and wanted to get into technology. And a lot of people had to take a chance on me along the way and had to read into—
Keen: Yes, but, you know, you’re a Yale graduate. It’s not really that much of a gamble.
Genteel: Exactly. And I think that’s a great example there. I mean I think there are a lot of folks who—
Keen: So you agree with David that you need to—
Genteel: I think there are a lot of folks who’ve had a lot less privilege, who have been the short order cook, who have done those kinds of things, and I think we as an industry, and I would venture to guess a lot of industries don’t know how to really translate that into how is this going to work in the corporate world?
Ringelmann: I think there’s data that shows—and somebody find the exact data, but it’s like the people who graduate the top of the like second tier and third tier universities do better in life than most people that graduate from the Ivies, unless you’re the like top tier of the Ivies. It’s just, it’s a hustle, it’s a work ethic, and I think that is the key in driving a shift is like how do we teach kids how to problem solve and to be okay with making a mistake, and reward that when they’re able to balance being a cook in the kitchen and getting their homework done. I remember teaching one summer—
Keen: Where did you go to university?
Ringelmann: I went to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Keen: Is that an A or a B quality one?
Ringelmann: I don’t know.
Mather: According to Google, you’d be a B.
Ringelmann: A B? I’m a B.
Keen: I want to get as many questions in, so if you can keep it brief, and introduce yourself as well.
A: Sure. Matt Vollmar with New Mind Group in Kalamazoo, Michigan. So I lead a small tech company, and when I started a year and a half ago, we were basically a company of dudes, 20 and 30-year-old guys with beards. And one of the things that I did was try and figure out how can I bring more women in, more minorities. And we realized, Laura, that our application was very guy-centric, and so we eliminated as many of those characteristics as possible—and I appreciate, I’m going to look at your software. But I disagree in the sense that leading from the top down is not the answer, because it really is—
Mather: I think it’s necessary, but not sufficient.
A: Yes. And I was going to say that I have trouble, because I only have one female employee right now, that I hired for accounting. We don’t get applicants for the technology positions that are female or minorities. And if we do, it literally is someone, we’ve made the description less techy, and it’s caused people to apply that literally have no experience.
So my question is how do I do this in a company that exists, that’s growing—we made the Inc. 500. I mean we’re like, we want people coming in with diverse opinions. How do we change the culture, because our mindset is there?
Keen: You should hire some morticians, right?
Page: But I was going to ask—because we have to think outside the box. If we keep doing the same things, we’ll get the same result. So like how many organizations are you involved with where there are a diverse group of women? Are you in Michigan Council of Women and Technology? Are you there? Because, you know, the thing is, we just want people to come to us. If they don’t know about the jobs, they’re not going to come to you. So are you out there networking with the people who look like the people you say you want to get?
A: Now, that is a really good question, and I am naïve from that perspective. I worked for HP before, from home, so my experience was largely corporate and not community focused. So coming into a small—
Page: But it’s also corporate. So we’re not just talking about community. We’re talking about some of these organizations who are corporations, and then there are some community groups. So when people say, “We can’t find them,” you have to meet people where they are. Because we’re here. And now you have to go outside of this place to come to us.
Mather: And imagine how your talent pool’s going to open up.
Page: Yes. It will.
Ringelmann: And be proactive about talking about what are all of your HR policies. I mean like, “This is what maternity leave is, this is what happens if there’s a sexual harassment thing.” Because one thing another engineer told me is, just like the word ‘ninja’ is like, “Don’t apply,” it’s like a red flag, it’s also a “Don’t apply” red flag if there’s less than 20 percent engineers that are women in a company. They expect the same culture. So if you’re in that situation right now, you’ve got to proactively message against it. And not just message against it, but make sure that there are policies in place that if someone is sexually harassed there is a chain of command, that there’s a process to deal with it, and that this is what happens. And maybe right now you have to work a little harder to a) get that in place and b) communicate that out, so that if somebody is thinking, “Oh, this is place is all dudes. I don’t even want to touch it,” that you eliminate that—
Keen: But he’s running a for profit company. I mean is it really worth making that much effort?
A: Absolutely.
Keen: Why?
A: Let me just tell you, I think this is a shift in our culture. You brought up very clearly that for profit companies historically have done a very poor job at managing cultural relationships. It’s always been about money. So our mission statement is that we use technology to help our customers make their work more profitable, productive, and enjoyable. And so those pieces—it’s about relationship. It’s not about the money.
Forde: The one quote that’s been alluded to on this stage, but it’s just—I really appreciate it. Bill Wolf, who was the former president of the National Academy of Engineering, said, every time we approach a design problem with a pale male team, we run the risk of not finding the most—
Keen: What kind of team?
Forde: Pale male. You and me. Every time we approach a design problem with a pale male team, we run the risk of not finding the most elegant solution because we’re not bringing the diversity of experiences to bear on the problem or trying to create the most elegant solution, not the most complicated.
Ringelmann: Yes. I mean a good example, I was talking to one of the early leaders of, and when she got involved, the coders who had built it, they had basically created ability for you to share information about yourself as a way to get a date—and this was early days of online dating. And they had taken the same fields that they applied to guys and applied it to women, and one of those fields was, “How much do you weigh?” And the women who came in, she’s like, “Are you crazy? A women would never talk about how much she weighs as a way to get a date.”
Keen: How much do you weigh? We have about five minutes left. And, please, this is a really great conversation. Anyone else jump up if they have questions.
A: A couple of quick points. Tony Scott from VMware, 22 percent, not good enough. We’ve got a lot more to do. I’m also on the board of something called the PhD Project, which tries to get women and minorities in PhD tenured department head positions in science, technology. Any corporation can join. I would strongly urge you to do this. It’s about getting mentors in major colleges and universities, and they’ve got an incredible track record over the last 30 years of helping get more diversity in colleges, which then encourages the student body to be more diverse and creates candidates at masters and PhD level for companies. So, PhD Project, you can email me, tscott@vmware, if you want more information on that.
The other thing I would say is, I think it is a lot about mentorship at the end of the day. And the big issue I see is, whether it’s the portrayal in media, or just the popular notion that tech jobs are for nerdy, uncool—
Ringelmann: Live in their mom’s basement—
A: Yes. I think we really have to change that image.
Keen: Well, that’s a great—I’ve got two more people, and one person there, and then closing remarks. Very briefly—I’m sorry, we’re running out of time.
A: How’s it going? I’m Shay [ph]. I wanted to touch on Marlin’s point, as well as Chris’s point, Marlin, when you talk about exposure for your own community, and Chris saying how you can change the narrative of what you’ve experienced to one of entrepreneurship. So I mean I love the fact that the White House is doing the US 2020 partnership and I think that’s beautiful. But what can we do for our communities—we have very few people that are in these high positions to be a role model for young people to say, “Well, you can do this because I did it.” And the narrative is kind of like, “Okay, go to school, whatever, so you can play basketball, football, go to the NFL.” How can we switch that narrative, and as opposed to being a professional sports player or a singer, rapper, whatever, change to being an entrepreneur, because you can make just as much money doing that?
Keen: Great question. Two more and then you can choose which ones to answer.
A: Tonya Matthews, CEO, Michigan Science Center. One of the questions I would say is, getting back to the business is business concept, we keep approaching this first generation of “we finally give a damn,” from what girls are not prepared to do, as opposed to the typical business paradigm of becoming the employer of choice. So while we do need to work and develop these interests, there are straight As in STEM, engineering girls graduating from Harvard and Yale and deciding that they would rather work somewhere else because other companies are portraying the culture that they want to work for. So I think rather than attacking some of these symptoms, we might want to switch the conversation to something more systematic, which is if you want different kinds of people, then you have to go for them, just like you’re going for your straight A Harvardeers, and you have to promise these women exactly what they’re looking for in their jobs.
Keen: So that’s actively going out and finding the people you want.
A: That is a woman—a man might think it’s really, really cool to have a gym in the basement, and a woman might think it’s really, really cool to have 180 days of maternity leave. It’s literally about becoming the employer of choice and understanding that different people—
Keen: Well, that kind of fits in with a lot of Laura’s points as well.
A: Yes.
Keen: All right, last comment. And that was a great point.
A: Hi, my name’s Rashima Flood [ph]. I’m one of the instructors for Sisters Code. My comment is around some focus on re-careering. We talked a lot about students that are coming directly out of college, and there are fast track programs and things for them, but what about the women that have been in the technology workforce for a while, but, for instance, if they’ve been working on the old programs, if they’re applying for new things now, now their training is out of date and they’re applying for things and they don’t have the experience. They have it in an older technology, but companies aren’t reinvesting in employees anymore.
Keen: Thank you. We’re going to start with Brian—closing comments. Brian, you might respond, or just tell us what you think generally.
Forde: Sure. There’s another great program in the UK that they’re starting to bring founders to high schools to show them what it’s like to actually be an entrepreneur and make it as cool and hip as it is to become an athlete. So that’s maybe one program that you can think about starting here, if you’re based in Detroit, to bring local entrepreneurs to your local high schools.
Keen: Well, Zuckerberg is a rock star, right? I mean everyone wants to be Mark Zuckerberg.
Mather: Yes, but he’s a white male.
Keen: Right. Well, I’m not saying that’s a good thing. I’m saying that’s part of the complexity of our cultural situation. Marlin?
Page: I just want to, once again, just talk about, briefly, how important it is to engage women, older women, just to include us in the conversation about re-careering into the field of technology, not to miss out on that opportunity.
Genteel: A couple of random thoughts. The women from the Michigan Science Center reminded me also that there are a lot of non-tech jobs in the tech industry, for folks like myself and most of, for example, Googlers in Michigan. That’s something that we have to pay attention to.
I think it’s also important—we’re here in Detroit. You know, more than 80% black. We’ve talked a lot about women. We’ve talked a lot less about race and ethnicity, and that’s pretty typical, I think. It’s just harder for us as a country to talk about it. And I think it’s important that we keep talking about those issues as well.
Keen: Laura, does your software work for race as well as gender?
Mather: It does, in fact.
Keen: And religion?
Mather: And religion, and handicaps, and sexual preference, and—all it does it take only what’s relevant to whether or not you can do the job and have those be the considerations of whether or not you get the job, and it removes everything else, or tries to.
I want to make one comment about the gentleman, he asked about how to change perceptions. One thing that I’m super excited about, which sounds weird, is the new show this fall is going to be “CSI: Computer,” and the star is Patricia Arquette, so it’s a woman. So by making this a little bit sexy—since “CSI” came out, the number of people going into forensic science has gone up like a thousand-fold. So this could be really good for us.
And then, in general, whatever we do to address diversity issues I think needs to be as scalable as possible. I would love to fly Marlin all over the world and have her give talks.
Page: I’ll go.
Mather: I’d rather make it so that somehow she could address millions of people at once. So I think scalability—
Keen: But isn’t that the problem is that there aren’t many Marlins.
Mather: And that’s one of the reasons why I’m building the software I am, because it can be scalable and actually—
Keen: We need virtual Marlin.
Mather: And we can do that too. And, again, we do it through “CSI: Computer” and other role models and things like that. But let’s just try to make things as scalable as possible.
Ringelmann: Yes. Well, we’re trying. I mean we’ve got—one of my favorite campaigns right now on Indiegogo, or it just closed, was two young entrepreneurs out of Illinois, two young women who wanted to start a doll company where the dolls look like famous female scientists. And their first doll is Marie Curie. The doll company is called Miss Possible. They totally launched the business, they’re off to the races. So just catalyze more of that.
I would say the closing comments, I love the woman’s comment about you have to go after what you want, too, and be the employer of choice. When I think about equal opportunity, I don’t just think about equal access. That’s the first step. You have to have open doors, but you have to bring people into those doors. And so I’m actually looking forward to kind of doing the analytics on this, but I know from the beginning, you know, the reason—you laugh that we’re only 100 people, but I think by starting with diversity early and making it part of who we are, the easier it will be to grow and stay diverse. Because we all have biases. I have biases. When we went to take on strategic investors, I made my list of people, over half of them were women. Not because I’m like, “I need women.” It’s just because that’s my bias. I like look towards female leaders more than I do male, for whatever reason. So we all have biases, so you want a company where all biases are there. So then it’s at least diversity of biases, so then you get those diversity of perspectives. So my goal is to hopefully inspire other entrepreneurs that are starting companies to think about this when they’re starting the company, so that they get diverse perspectives at the table from the beginning.
And then the inclusion comment is—and so, as I’ve thought about this, you know, I spoke at Lesbians Who Tech, I speak at Women 2.0, I speak at as many places that gather pools of talent that I want to be at and try to recruit, and I think that has had an indirect—I don’t have the numbers to prove that, but I think that has driven part of the reason why we’ve been successful in the gender diversity side, and I think it also explains why we have more work to do on our ethnic diversity side, because I haven’t been going after Black Women in Tech conferences and things like that.


Brian Forde

Congressional Candidate for U.S. Congress,

Chris Genteel

Head of Diversity Markets, Google, Inc.

Danae Ringelmann

Founder and Chief Development Officer, Indiegogo

Laura Mather

Founder and CEO, Unitive

Marlin Page

Diversity and Inclusion Officer, FCA Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Andrew Keen

Author, "The Internet Is Not the Answer", Digital Vertigo

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