Andrea Guendelman is founder and CEO of BeVisible a career networking platform for Latinx. Post election, Andrea put four questions to her Advisors. I am honored to be a member of that team. In the spirit of adding to the #ElectionTech dialog here are my answers to Andrea’s four questions:
Q1. How do you anticipate that a Trump presidency will impede efforts to increase diversity at all levels in tech?
A. Despite the widespread pessimistic mood in many tech circles I answer: It will not. In fact it might actually drive advances in diversity in the industry. The problem is not a political one and the solutions are, and always have been, in the hands of the leaders of the industry whether they are the CEOs of public tech companies, the leadership team of a well funded unicorn or founders of a tiny startup. Yes there are societal issues underpinning lack of diversity and maybe they will move backwards, maybe not. But, as I wrote recently HERE, it is only within tech companies that inclusion be promoted and diversity sustained and increased.
Frankly the private sector has zero excuses in terms of where it is today with its widespread lack of diversity. (You can’t blame that on eight years of an Obama administration!) Going forward it will continue to have zero excuses, whoever is in the White House. But perhaps the shock of the election will encourage players in the industry to increase their efforts to improve diversity. Why?
First, the three legged business case is still there:
a) unless you seek out the best talent very widely you will never have the best team you can have (remembering that talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not.)
b) diversity is the catalyst for innovation and hence is vital to winning in any competitive marketplace.
c) tech is the most global industry and especially in that context only businesses with diverse teams will fully appreciate and be able to capture market opportunities. And only with diverse teams will companies have a employee profile to support their global brands.
Second, the moral case is now even stronger. Healing wounds in society and “doing the right thing” takes on a new urgency – I expect many tech leaders will respond to that call.
Q2. A lot of underrepresented groups are feeling more vulnerable now than ever. What will your company be doing differently to support people of color, Latinos, immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ community?
A. Be more open, more engaged, show empathy and crucially listen more. And that doesn’t just include the groups you mention. It must include the groups you don’t mention, so listening to the voices of people “we” in tech don’t normally talk to who clearly felt Trump had a message for them that they responded to positively. And they deserve to be heard, because they and others elected him our President.
In that context I think Farhad Manjoo’s recent piece in the New York Times spoke to many of the ways in which tech has become too self satisfied and elitist and hence detached from large parts of society. And that includes contributing to the income inequality that has damaged the fabric of society and created the environment in which Trump’s rhetoric sounds appealing to many millions of people, rural and less educated white in particular … because they think the system is working for them. (The Princeton research on declining white mortality that came out last year puts one aspect of this sense of “not working” into stark relief: “Quiet ‘Epidemic’ Has Killed Half a Million Middle-Aged White Americans“.)
Q3. Do you anticipate that tech will move more toward working with a Trump administration, or for building social justice outside of government? Where do you think your efforts will be more effective?
A. It has to do both. Larger companies have interests in tax, social, trade and many other policy areas and have the lobbying machines that given them a voice in policy setting and legislation, and many of the leaders have their bully pulpit too as public figures. The Obama administration was seen as tech friendly, too cosy with tech maybe. Now, in an environment where policy could shift in less favorable directions, in the interests of all their stakeholders these companies must and will make their opinions heard.
To the point about building social justice outside government, larger players also have done that before: for example campaigns against legislation hostile to LGBT legislation for example and likely will do more of that too. However the tech industry is open to accusations of being inconsistent if not outright hypocritical … in ways that can undermine its legitimacy as a voice for social justice. For example why so vocal on legislation impairing LGBT rights but not standing up in the same way against legislation restricting voter rights for people of low income/people of color !?
And on the hypocrisy front just look at the demographics of the larger companies and the investors (venture capital) that given them their initial funding. That alone means, for now, they lack the high ground from which to adopt a superior position.
Other issues that just doesn’t feel right in this context: the aggressive use of international tax law to shift profits offshore and to low tax jurisdictions resulting in massive off shore tax hoards. (It may well all be legal, but it doesn’t feel right and certainly not good.) Also the way Google and Facebook in particular have become the vampire squids of media … sucking the life (aka ad revenue) from traditional media companies and undermining quality paid journalism: by wrecking these the legacy journalism business model they have diminished the ability of “newspapers” to the pursue broad and deep investigative journalism which hold politicians of all stripes to account in the interests of an informed citizenry. (Although Jeff Bezos and his investment in the Washington Post stands out as a tech leader pushing back on this.)
Disruption is just a polite if contemporary way of saying “creative destruction” – which is what capitalism is all about. BUT, as Farhood points out, Facebook and Twitter as major large scale publishing platforms of the day, can not absolve themselves of the responsibility for being the vehicles of disruption through which hate and vitriol (and totally fake news) have been transmitted and magnified. (It seems that employees inside Facebook are asking that question too.)
As to effectiveness: You are always most effective when dealing with things you control. So if the tech industry wants to take that high ground on social justice issues broadly it needs to get its act together internally first and in areas it touches directly, some of which I touched on above. Again zero excuses there and still so much to do … necessary future internal actions will have nothing to do with who is in the White House.
Q4. How can we work together?
A. By encouraging and supporting others and sharing best practices to build inclusive and diverse organizations. As one of the candidates in the election was fond of saying:
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
Image credit: CC by Tim Sackton