OpEd: How Scalability is Hindering Progress in Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

The lack of diversity and inclusion in tech is an intricate problem and despite a billion dollars worth of investment, we aren’t getting closer to a solution. It leaves those of us who have taken up the charge of tackling this issue confused and sometimes very frustrated. In my experience, the tech pipeline is non inclusive at its onset and that trend continues all the way through. It’s going to take a full and complete overhaul of teaching practices, skill assessment, candidate selection, and evaluation practices to see actual progress in diversity and inclusion numbers.

Currently, diversity and inclusion dollars are largely going to youth exposure programs, recruitment efforts, unconscious bias trainings, and the establishment of Employee Resource Groups (employee led groups comprised of folks who share culture, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation). These are all GREAT efforts as a start, but they aren’t moving the needle on diversity and inclusion numbers, as a recent Ascend Foundation study revealed, which leaves us all wondering why these are the preferred approaches. The answer: these approaches are easily scalable.

Data: Google EEO-1 and Facebook Newsroom Chart: Tamyra at #YesWeCode

Scalability is a prominent driver of success in the current tech economy and how an idea garners investment. Success at scale is how a product makes a company profitable. When we talk about social impact, however, scalability doesn’t have the same effect. Solutions to these types of problems require analysis and testing at labor intensive depth before they can be implemented at scale.

Unfairness in candidate selection, day to day treatment in the workplace, and performance evaluation is extremely difficult to root out. You have to dig deeply to identify what people are experiencing in an environment and design solutions that are based in lived experiences. For example, as a young African American girl that grew up in the STEM pipeline, I never felt like I belonged. The longer I stayed in the pipeline, the worse that feeling became. This lived experience provided acute insight on how to build the #YesWeCode Coding Corps, a pilot program that provided financial support, advocacy, and career navigation guidance to nontraditional candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. I didn’t let my lived experience be my only guide in the design and implementation of the program, however. I was constantly working with program participants to understand more perspectives and thus gain deeper knowledge about how to improve the #YesWeCode “solution”. The process was labor and resource intensive, but now we have some best practices to share outat scale.

I understand that scalability is a viable metric for social impact work, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of quality solutions. I’m proposing that we change our approach to how we solve the complicated issues that characterize the lack of diversity and inclusion in tech. Rather than baking scalability into the front end of a solution, we should spend time digging more deeply into study of critical race and gender theory. We should also spend more time listening to the personal narratives of those who apply and don’t make it into tech’s doors, of the students who can’t pass math and science courses in middle and high school, of successful engineers from underrepresented backgrounds, and of tech equity organizations who demonstrate a depth of impact. I implore all of us in the tech ecosystem to ask deeper questions in new places to improve solutions at scale.

Tamyra has 10 years of youth development experience as an impassioned STEM educator and is fueled by an altruistic belief in equity for all who is wish to join the STEM community. Her diverse experience in education spans across classrooms in Dallas, Greece, and Oakland, and includes STEM program and curriculum development as well as teacher leadership and professional development. She is also a featured educator on a Stanford University Massive Open Online Course on formative assessment. Tamyra holds a BA in Sociology from Howard University and a MS in Mathematics Teaching and Learning from Drexel University. Follow her at @Tamyraintech