Mikey Tom January 06, 2017
While the gadgets and gizmos at CES are enthralling, there are plenty of other storylines running through the conference that deserve attention. One topic that was consistently top-of-mind while walking around the convention was diversity. That could be because I attended talks highlighting the issue, or perhaps it's because the tech industry is notoriously dominated by a few types of people. Either way, it’s a fascinating, complex topic.
We’ve written about diversity in the past, but mostly in regard to how it applies to the venture capital industry. We wrote about how it was a hot topic at 500 Startups' Premoney conference in June, as well as how there's been a slow shift in terms of who's getting hired for early roles at VC firms.
When diversity is brought up, though, it’s often seen as only referring to the underrepresentation of women in the tech industry. That is undoubtedly an important part of the issue, and that underrepresentation is painfully apparent at CES, but there's much more to diversity that is worth thinking about and trying to address.
Brad Feld of Foundry Group led an interesting panel on the topic of "Diversity in tech" on Friday, with discussion centering on various issues that each participant has experienced. Something that really stuck out was the connection made between unconscious bias and diversity. Feld and the panelists highlighted how exposing yourself to people from different walks of life—those who may have differing opinions or may think about problems in a different way than you—helps limit the potential for unconscious bias to creep into your decisions.
Age, for example, is one piece of the diversity puzzle that is less talked about but still frequently plays an unfair role in decision making. The New York Times wrote an in-depth article on the issue, but in general there's a growing aversion in the tech industry to working with older people, even though they often have a wealth of experience in their respective field. Ageism can cut both ways, too. During the panel, Jinger Zeng (left), CEO & co-founder of Dronesmith Technologies, referred to multiple instances when she wasn't taken seriously in business dealings because of how young she was, and that sometimes she would need help from other older people to "open doors."
During that same panel, Jenny Fielding (right) of Techstars described diversity as “working with people unlike yourself.” One way this is implemented at Techstars is through whom they choose to fill associate roles—some hires have hailed from countries such as Dubai and Greece, for example. Fielding argues that making a conscious decision to try and hire people who have different life experiences only strengthens businesses by expanding the world views of employees.
So, whether you’re a founder, investor, employee or service provider, take some time to think about different types of diversity and how you are—and could be—incorporating them into your goals. It’s not just a case of social good, but it’s also good for business.
Mikey's Day 1 recap from CES covered the a standout industry at the conference (the Internet of Things) and a standout product (Amazon's Alexa platform).