The lack of women and minorities in the tech industry has often been narrowed down to a gender or racial issue, when it is actually a challenge affecting a country as a whole. More than ever, a new kind of holistic leadership is required from policy makers to increase diversity in the tech workplace and comprehensively manage the digital transition.
Last January was marked by the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, with this year’s theme focusing on “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. The wording was pertinent as mastering the technological innovation is precisely the challenge ahead for world policy makers – as OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria expressed, technological growth is to a certain extent “predictable and the real question is how far and quickly can we adapt to it”. While the tech sector represents the fastest growing segment in the US labor market and that 1.4 million IT-related jobs are forecasted to be created by 2018, technology represents more than ever a potential for economic growth and increased productivity but also social divide as, following the current pace, not everyone will benefit from or be included within this new paradigm.
At Davos, particular attention was given to workplace diversity, a subject left too long outside of technology-related talks. When we speak about social inclusion and technology, we often focus on how accessible technological innovations such as internet reach and usage are. However, little is said about social inclusion within tech firms themselves. And if we start breaking down employee profiles, we observe that the top tech firms often given as golden standards both in developing and industrialized countries, are far from being socially inclusive.
Leading businesses have to lead the way
According to the latest census poll, the US population is made up of an equal male to female ratio, and is 16% Hispanic and 12% Afro-American. However, when we look at the employee breakdown in leading tech companies such as Google, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube, there are on average only 30% women, 5% Hispanic and 2% African-American people. And even fewer occupy leadership positions. Why is this an issue? First, from the perspective of social fairness: we expect our leading businesses, just as from our governmental bodies and institutions, to be accurate reflections of the diversity and richness of its population – not of its inherent tensions and social divides. The second argument goes even further. It is also an economic loss. By gathering employees with homogenous profiles, tech firms are missing out on diversity as a creative engine, marked by its potential to heighten competitiveness and economic growth.
The lack of women and minorities in the tech industry has often been narrowed down to a gender or racial issue, when it actually goes much beyond. Mixing employees with different background, skillset and cognitive intelligence allows to better cope with the complexity of this world. It allows them to come up with innovative ideas, and solutions to problems or aspects of life that might never have been raised by a group of people with similar mindsets. If you leave women and minorities out of the tech workplace, you are missing out on a huge pool of talent that could have significantly improved our living standards and social cohesion.
So, what should we expect from policy makers? As the founder of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab points out, mastering the fourth industrial revolution requires holistic leadership, the recognition that today’s challenges are intrinsically interconnected and that, I would add, leaders have some degree of familiarity with what technology and technological innovation really means. Leaders should also promote early investment in digital education and life-long learning to keep labor skills updated, and avoid social divides linked to computer illiteracy. But, above all policy makers should keep in mind the means versus the end– that technological growth is not an end in itself, but only a tool to improve citizens’ standards of living, both economically and socially speaking. If most people are left out of the equation, then the tool must be reassessed and framed again.