Myth-busting has never been an easy task, particularly when it seems that the latest game in business is feigning that excellent people of color do not exist in a particular industry. The resulting excuse for their absence is that, therefore, they cannot be included. Is this belief a very convenient way to guard the ranks in order to generate greater prosperity for the insiders — or just a sad side effect of the all-too-small social circles of the business elite? Regardless of its origins, we must begin to move quickly past this prevalent phenomenon, particularly in the area of technology, because in that sector diversity truly offers the very best advantage in the form of ideas and creativity.
This is important to the very growth of the technology industry’s development, which is critical to the economic expansion of our country.
There are many interesting and intelligent people of color contributing in a number of ways within the tech space, although to look at most magazine articles and industry panels, one would not know it.
A prime example is a recent selection of panelists for an important conference that started out with an all-male line up of 22 speakers — none black, by the way — at an upcoming tech-related super-event called the Edge Conference. The event is sponsored by FinancialTimes Labs, Google and Facebook. A firestorm of commentary quickly developed in the tech world between those who believe the organizers are completely oblivious to the importance of including diverse perspectives and those that feel that the organizers are well within their rights to pick who they see as “the best.”
Criticizing the methodology used in selecting the speakers rather than promoting quotas, a blog post by tech developer and designer Aral Balkan was a particularly important and a thoughtful part of the analysis simmering over the issue. He urged his fellow white male technology insiders not to see diversity as a burden, but as a tool of perspective expansion.
Yet, no matter how well-meaning some input on the controversy has been, perhaps the most unfortunate part of the Edge embroilment is that most of the discussion has taken place between white males. It might strike some as ironic that they are actually deciding if diversity matters among themselves. Therein lies the crux of the problem today. This situation demonstrates the social hierarchy of ethnicity currently in place in the tech sector, because it is still white men deciding who get to determine what is valid and why. In addition, the Edge conference has caused outrage among many women (and their supporters) who are also facing the issue of being excluded from playing in the digital sandbox.
All too often either type of “outsider” can be eclipsed by a sandstorm of discouragement, get elbowed out of the way, or simply be ignored while hearing that there is no need for you on the playground, when in reality you just are not seen. This creates a dangerous new “invisible man” (and/or woman) effect, to steal a phrase from African-American novelist Ralph Ellison who first chronicled the pain of the minority experience.
Why do leaders in the tech sector and in the press continue to say “they can’t find any” of us when the time comes for showcasing bleeding edge thinkers and doers with visibility?