Misinformed: How a misunderstanding of tech industry perpetuates the diversity and inclusion problem

by Wandini Riggins, Indiana Minority Business Magazine

     Lack of diversity in the tech sector is simultaneously a crisis and an opportunity, says Kelli N. Jones, co-founder of Indianapolis-based Be Nimble Ventures. With co-founder Jeff T. D. Williams, Jones and Be Nimble Ventures seek to “create the blueprint for what true diversity and inclusion looks like in technology.” Be Nimble”Advises existing tech companies, creates collabration opportunities and programming, and incubates new startups founded by people of color.”

     “To ‘be nimble’ is to be flexible—to be able to pivot and adjust, “says Jones. And therein lies part of the solution to the long-standing diversity problem in tech.

     Jones  has identitfied various keys to unlocking the puzzle. Jones points to the importance of exposing K-12 children to technology education; investor support and scale opportunities for tech startups; development and mass circulation of creative learning tools for use by individuals and companies alike; and, perhaps most importantly, shedding the fear and embracing the possibilities.

     Jones says fear— not will or capacity—is at the root of the tech diversity problem. “We have to default to ‘can’ instead of ‘can’t.’ We need to understand our power. We can win. There’s room for everone. We need to spend less time being scared, counterproductive, talking ourselves out of things, competing with one another,” she says.

     A self-described “non-technical tech person,” Jones is laser-focused on what she terms a “missed opportunity.” Data shows a meager 3 to 5 percent of tech industry professionals are people of color or members of the LGBTQ communtiy. Twenty percent of the tech labor force are women. In tracking all-important growth in the tech sector, the data shows that companies with little to no minority presence grow at a rate of approximately 15 percent, while tech companies with solid minority employee bases are growing at a staggering 50 percent. Distilling this data, Jones explains that tech companies—incentivived to embrace and capitalize on diversity in hiring­are actively seeking new hires and coming up short. Why? The problem stems, in part from a fundamental misunderstanding of the tech industry by minority populations. As Jones explains, “Just because it’s tech, doesn’t mean it’s coding.”

     To-date, Jones explains, minority poulations have failed to see the untapped potential in tech. “You do not have to be tech-skilled to thrive in the tech sector,” says Jones. “Tech companies want to reach people. If you know how to reach people, you can work in tech. The operative question is, “Do you have marketing, design, project management or sales skills? Are you a journalist, writer, artist or designer? If so, the tech companies want you!”

     Jones explain that a wide swath of minority professionals simply fail to consider the tech sector as an option, deeming it forclosed to them due to their lack of technical background. This is a fallacy, and a costly one, as the tech industry continues to grow exponentially in the absence of skilled minority labor. “On the development side, the tech companies can always find coders,” Jones explains. “Building the product is the base; but tech companies ultimately make their money from the efforts of the marking, human resources, sales business development, bloggers, content and digital marketing professionals, and creatives who ‘package’ the product and ‘make it hot’ for the public.”

     Understanding the tech labor market and the vast opportunities therein is vital to bridging the tech diversity gap, Jones says. “Tech is growing faster than any market in the world. There are always new companies emerging, and they are all looking for people. Tech companies go to who they know and operate within networks. In recognizing the opportunity and figuring out how to get more of us in those spaces, we win. I want our community to realize that we push culture. Black Twitter curates everything. If we harness our power and leverage it, we can do anything.”