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Five ways to foster diversity

Maeve McQuillan
Published on February 6, 2018

In this post, Amanda Connon-Unda, reports on ideas for fostering diversity, while attending Collision Conf’s Women in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) Roundtable in New Orleans in April 2016.

1) Encourage girls of all walks of life to consider tech careers

The host of the Roundtable, Maria Klawe, opened the session by stating that computer science is a wonderful career opportunity for women, as it can lead to higher income levels and more stability for families – perhaps maybe even increasing many of the GDPs in the world, by injecting trillions of dollars with women’s additional contributions. There are clearly many benefits to be had: everything from improving the quality of the work environment for everyone, to building more profitable business, and a more equitable world for all.

2) Create better academic computer science programmes

At Harvey Mudd College, where Maria Klawe became the school’s fifth president in 2006, they’ve been able to increase women’s enrolment in computer science.  “We changed the introductory courses to make them more engaging and less intimidating. Then we separated the students by levels of experience to tailor teaching. We gave them a great introductory course and then persuaded them to take just one more. By that point, they’d get their summer internship offers, and by the third course, they’d decide to Major. We made the pathway easy.

“It takes a real commitment. You have to think about all the barriers and remove them,” said Maria.

unnamedAmanda (front row, far right) and her Roundtable group at Collision

3) Build your startup with diversity in mind

For startups who are just starting to build teams, it’s worth mentioning that it’s a lot easier to build diversity early on, rather than waiting until there is already a skew on your team toward one particular group. So start early, but also remember, it’s never too late to try something new.

4) Consider Creating a Full-time Diversity Position

One woman said, “There are 350 people at Slack, and they have one diversity person at this point. So, what I did here at my company is I started a panel on women in leadership and invited guests. I essentially made my own channel outside of the company, and in the end my employer started sponsoring my events. Now I’m creating my own role for Diversity at our company. Don’t wait and ask for permission. Just do it. Take action and make things happen.”

5) Build confidence and authenticity amongst team members

We should support authenticity. One participant in the group said that she’s learned to own and refine her own aggression. She said, “If something makes you angry, call it out. If someone doesn’t listen to you – speak up. When you are a truth-teller you’ll encourage others to build an open and safe culture at work.”