To build a more inclusive tech industry, focus on systems

By Adam Curtis

Authored by Dana Ledyard and Nancy Chan of Catalyte

This week we attended the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Summit in Nashville, Tenn. It’s the world’s largest annual convening of change leaders focused on significantly improving diversity and inclusion in computing.

Permeating the event was the sense that we’ve done the work to identify the problems. Now it’s time to do more to solve them.

These problems include the persistent underrepresentation of women and people of color in the tech industry. That fact is well documented. What the Summit, its speakers and participants rallied around is that understanding and acknowledging problems doesn’t always lead to concrete action. And when it does, the focus is often on singular, one-time fixes that benefit a few select individuals.

So how do we raise representation levels and make the tech industry more inclusive?

The consensus was to focus on systems level change. By changing systems, you can create a pipeline of inclusivity, rather than attempt to diversify your workforce person by person.

One example of this is implicit bias training. While it might help someone identify their own biases, it doesn’t address the underlying causes of those biases, or deconstruct corporate barriers that may reinforce them.

At Catalyte, what this means is dismantling hiring systems that favor pedigree over aptitude. If we can move beyond resume-based hiring, and all the explicit and implicit bias associated with it, we can identify individuals, regardless of background, who will succeed in tech. This creates new talent pipelines for discovering and hiring from groups previously underrepresented in the tech industry.

Outside of our own company, we can expand this idea at scale. We’re working with companies to assess their current non-technical workforce to find those with the aptitude to become great software developers.

The benefit of this type of systemic change is that we can truly shift the direction of an industry that has struggled to make diversity and inclusion progress. The challenge is that systemic changes take time and are prone to interruption or deprioritization. We have to keep pushing everyday to build on success of any size. By doing that, we can create a tech industry that’s more productive and prosperous for all involved.