It's no secret that gender and racial diversity are prominent issues in the tech industry. While women comprise roughly half of the workforce in the U.S., they represent only 20 percent of software developers. Even more astonishingly, only 4 percent of software developers in the U.S. are African-American and 5 percent are Hispanic. Whether it’s a selection bias or an issue of resource availability, the fact remains that the technology industry suffers from a severe lack of diversity.
This issue has significant implications for the technology industry as a whole. Apple CEO Tim Cook said it best: “...the most diverse group will produce the best product, I firmly believe that." Without diversity, technology companies simply cannot produce “the best” products.
When technologists come together to create solutions, they start by considering the goals the solution is designed to achieve as they relate to the intended user. This is where a lack of diversity becomes an apparent obstacle: homogenous groups of people tend to impose an isolated perspective that doesn’t adequately account for users with differing sets of experiences, values and perceptions. As a result, a development team’s ability to create a solution that reaches users in varying demographics is greatly inhibited.
The business benefits of increased diversity within development teams are considerable. In a study cited in the December 2013 edition of Harvard Business Review, researchers evaluated the business value of diverse teams:
Without diverse leadership, women are 20% less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas; people of color are 24% less likely; and LGBTs are 21% less likely. This costs their companies crucial market opportunities, because inherently diverse contributors understand the unmet needs in under-leveraged markets. We’ve found that when at least one member of a team has traits in common with the end user, the entire team better understands that user. A team with a member who shares a client’s ethnicity is 152% likelier than another team to understand that client.
Gaining the perspective of minority groups in the decisionmaking process facilitates the creation of technology solutions that are far more wide-reaching. Companies would have the capability to create applications that are effectively personalized for every user demographic. So, diversity among technical teams provides companies with a competitive advantage compared to those that lack diversity.
While the business benefits of diversity are immense, it also presents significant opportunities to directly address social issues. Software developers with diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds bring a new set of ideas to the table that could open doors to entirely new technology solutions. While many apps and devices exist to address various social issues, the poor user experiences produced by homogenous teams inhibit the widespread adoption of these apps - 88 percent of users are less likely to revisit an application after a bad experience. As a result, these apps have a minimal effect on the issues they attempt to address. However, developing technology solutions for minority groups, by minority groups, opens doors to effect all kinds of positive social change - members of these groups can create new solutions using the appropriate language, layout and overall strategy to create meaningful experiences for members of their target user demographics. Imagine what the widespread adoption of apps focused on social issues could do to improve the world around us - increased safety in high-crime areas, improved access to healthcare for rural and low-income urban populations, more equal employment and educational opportunities, the list goes on.
To address the issue of diversity in tech, Productive Edge has partnered with the African American Academic Network at the University of Illinois at Chicago in their pilot endeavor to provide coding education for UIC’s large minority student population - the UIC Black Tech Scholars program. As a part of this program, students not only learn about coding, but will also see firsthand how technology and business come together. Through coursework, job shadowing opportunities and community involvement, students will acquire skills in coding and business while seeking to generate awareness about the issue of diversity in the tech industry. Our intent is that this program will help improve the level of diversity within Chicago’s technical community.
We are honored to be a part of this program and look forward to working toward improving the issue of diversity in our industry, starting with Chicago. For the most recent updates on the program, follow Productive Edge and the UIC African American Academic Network on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
To find out more about Productive Edge, please visit our website: www.productiveedge.com.