Have you heard ‘The Dave Rule’? It’s something that initially stirred my curiosity about diversity within the tech industry. The Dave Rule a long-standing idiom which originated from Silicon Valley and was also paraphrased in Sheryl Sandberg’s book, ‘Lean In’. Whilst a slightly tongue-in-cheek expression on the surface, it highlights a more serious gender gap issue across the global technology industry.
Do you know about the ‘Dave to girl’ ratio? 📔 Coined by @sherylsandberg in her 2013 book ‘Lean In’, it highlights how often there are more men with the same name in a tech team than there are total women. Our dev team Dave to girl ratio is 3:4. #womenintech pic.twitter.com/WMXZRlR8lF— Kyan (@kyan) July 20, 2018
Why does tech have such a widespread diversity imbalance and how can we address it?
Diversity is showing acceptance, compassion and empathy towards marginalised groups that are unrepresented. This could be race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values, national origin or political beliefs.
Today, hundreds of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley are overwhelmingly male and white (with a vast majority of business being comprised of a workforce that is less than 10% non-white). A little closer to home, diversity remains a key challenge for the UK tech industry with only 15% of the overall sector coming from BAME backgrounds. Gender diversity is disappointingly low too, at 19% compared to an average of 49% in other sectors.
It’s a common misconception that the gender gap in tech is primarily a pipeline issue; that there are simply not enough girls studying maths and science. However, recent UK data from universities shows that 50% of introductory computer science students are women.
Kieran Snyder, a former lead at Microsoft and Amazon and now CEO of Textio, interviewed 716 women who held tech positions at 654 companies in 43 states. On average, these women worked in tech for seven years and then left citing cultural issues as the primary reason.
The power of diversity
The technology industry is growing almost three times faster than the whole economy and is contributing around £200 billion a year to the economy. So for it to be so far behind in the diversity stakes suggests that it is a growing problem that we must address now.
Coding is all about solving problems and giving instructions to computers, systems or software to operate in certain ways. If all coders were white males, then code represents only one way of solving a problem. This ‘encoded prejudice’ is not good for teams or projects, and can have a direct influence on a final product.
Diversity in teams yields higher success when approaching problem solving and building a more well-rounded product. By including a greater representation of society in companies and product teams, divergent thinking can flourish, new approaches to problems can be uncovered, and there is a wider understanding of how the product may be accepted (or rejected) by its target audience. In fact, the target audience itself may even be reconsidered.
Where do we go from here?
Some companies and government organisations are actively pushing for better representation in the tech industry – but it needs to go further.
We must be more diverse in our approach to hiring right across the board, from engineers to venture capitalists. In Silicon Valley, failure is often celebrated as a result of the ‘fail fast’ mentality. It is true that it can help you learn (and eventually succeed). However, marginalised groups have been failed by the tech industry for too many years.
The data has proven that a more diverse workforce is not only more efficient and profitable, but also offers companies the chance to hear perspectives that were not previously present. It’s crucial for companies to have more intersectional voices heard across the tech industry, especially in leadership functions, and to encourage more diversity to ensure that they are creating solutions for the modern world: one that is filled with people from different backgrounds.
Are we going to solve the issue with this single blog post? Of course not. But we need to be having these conversations. And more importantly, we need to be doing something about it.
In the words of World Cup Football champion Megan Rapinoe at the winner's parade in New York City, she told the crowd: "We have to be better. We have to love more, hate less. Listen more, talk less. This is everyone's responsibility. It's our responsibility to make this world a better place."
Diversity is a continual process rather than something you can address overnight. Businesses of all shapes and sizes approach diversity in different ways, but we can affect change by working together. At Kyan, it is becoming a part of our daily conversations. We are making greater efforts to diversify our teams, whilst our hybrid approach to remote work means that we can be more proactive in our approach to recruitment. And finally, we have setup an internal Allyship Network via Slack – a staff forum where we can collectively tackle cultural challenges and address diversity within the agency.
Our work is never done, and we welcome everyone and anyone to come and work at Kyan.
We are Kyan, a technology agency powered by people.