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Five Ways Tech Can Encourage Diversity

We can improve.

WhiteHouse.gov

Tech leaders take pride in hiring the best and brightest, no matter their color, sex, religion, national origin or sexual preference. Leaders know that it’s the product, service or the app that drives business, and their goal is to hire the right people to get over the finish line and into the market.

In Las Vegas, from Jan. 6-9, you’ll see leaders in science and tech side by side with brand managers and entrepreneurs turning science fiction into serious reality. The best ideas are on display at CES 2016. With exhibitors from more than 50 countries, CES is truly a melting pot of innovation.

Tech’s lack of diversity in some areas is starting to tarnish what should be a celebration of the world’s most innovative, dynamic industry.

What makes consumer technology special is that its services, products and creative ideas are born of free choice in hiring, the free marketplace encouraging innovation and creative expression from entrepreneurs. Countries struggling with innovation are often run by repressive governments subjugating women and minorities, and censoring free expression.

But even in free countries, hidden barriers of prejudice and cultural norms hurt equality of opportunity. By some measures, tech’s lack of diversity in some areas is starting to tarnish what should be a celebration of the world’s most innovative, dynamic industry. And diversity is a worthy goal, one in which the tech industry can and should lead.

We can improve. A 2014 study of a dozen tech companies found the number of women and minorities working at U.S. tech companies does not resemble the varied and diverse landscape of the general U.S. population. Tech firms disproportionately employ whites, Asians and men. Women, Hispanics and blacks are generally underrepresented in higher-paying positions.

Here are five ways we can do better with diversity:

Help underrepresented groups “lean in”

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book “Lean In” documents the unique challenges women face with workplace discrimination and as mothers. And she lays out a constructive approach by which employers can take objective actions to work with female employees, not against them. Tech is the best industry in the world because we hire the best and brightest minds and talent — and “best” should mean the best representation of our country as a whole.

We can create workplaces that better reflect our country’s diversity by stretching toward those leaning in. This means pulling up those less-represented groups through mentoring, reaching out and targeting underrepresented groups for recruitment and executive career paths.

Individual company initiatives

Tech companies, including Google and Microsoft, have created programs to help women and minorities rise in the company ranks.

Hiring is another matter, because the pool of available talent is only so large, but companies know that their commitment to diversity is under the microscope. Intel stood out at the 2015 CES when CEO Brian Krzanich announced a program to ensure that the Intel workforce fully reflects the diversity of the U.S. population by 2020.

Big Idea initiatives

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, a former Googler, has made diversity a central pillar of her office’s platform. Likewise, the Obama administration’s TechHire program, which aims to boost information-technology skills in underserved communities, is a promising government-led initiative.

Initiatives like U.S. Tech Vets help military veterans translate their military skills into the civilian workforce, connecting employers with highly skilled and qualified workers. As a community, the tech world must offer its support to these programs, and the CEO directly must make diversity a priority.

Workplace support

Sometimes supporting diversity simply means demonstrating empathy, understanding and flexibility. Calls for Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s ouster only days after she gave birth to twins were not only cruel, they set a business tone that in the name of equality it is okay to attack any time.

When men can have babies, it will be real equality. Until then, new mothers deserve space, no matter who they are.

As parents, children or spouses, we all face situations where we need to put someone else above our jobs. As employers and co-workers, we must recognize and respect these life moments. It is part of being human. Bringing a little humanity and empathy to the business world will make us all better and our organizations stronger.

Education

Our nation has a cultural bias against girls pursuing courses in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. That’s why we must encourage, applaud and celebrate women (and minorities) who can and should pursue STEM learning.

Groups such as Girls Who Code educate, inspire and equip female high school students with the skills and resources to pursue STEM opportunities in computing, but there’s more work to be done.

Women hold roughly half of all jobs in the U.S., yet they hold only 25 percent of STEM jobs. And a report from Change the Equation found that the STEM workforce was no more diverse in 2014 than it was in 2001.

We need a talent pipeline. Private companies must continue to help promote STEM education at the K-12 level. If we’re seeking the best and brightest, let’s do our best to nurture and grow the pool of available talent from an early age.

Diversity is our American strength. It propels innovation and our economy. Just as our innovation success stems from a culture and Constitution promoting free expression, we can go further by taking advantage of all the talent we have.

The goal of diversity is not just noble. Diversity is our American strength. It propels innovation and our economy. Just as our innovation success stems from a culture and Constitution promoting free expression, we can go further by taking advantage of all the talent we have.

We must both embrace and encourage diversity, while repelling efforts to stifle free speech or impose new mandates. Quotas, speech restrictions and proposals for equal pay for “comparable” work might artificially solve our diversity problem and provide the facade of a more inclusive industry, but they would actually hurt hiring of women and minorities by increasing litigation, forcing the hiring of the unqualified and diminishing our ability to innovate and create new jobs.

Controversies in the tech community related to workplace sexism and racism undermine our dedication and commitment to open expression, innovation and free markets. After all, these are the very principles upon which the tech community has changed the world.

CES celebrates the magic, wonder and life-changing potential that consumer technology holds. It’s the global stage for innovation and an outstanding stage to trumpet the gospel of tech. But if the tech industry is to go further, we must also be innovative in discussing and solving these matters in an open and forthright manner.


Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books “Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses” and “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.” His views are his own. Reach him @GaryShapiro.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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