Representation: Great for Your People and Products
For many years I didn’t know whether my identity as a gay woman would be an obstacle to my career ambitions — especially in the male-dominated technology, finance and consulting sectors. But I’ve learned that in the right place and with the right support, this is far from the truth. If anything, being a gay woman and working mother shapes my professional experiences in positive ways.
It’s easy to understand why I used to perceive my identity as a professional barrier considering the historic lack of diversity in the tech industry. And while I’ve learned how to thrive in non-diverse spaces, it wasn’t always easy (and still isn’t in some cases). There are too few female senior leaders in the tech world, which makes it difficult to see yourself in their shoes. It also means an absence of leaders who understand the barriers a woman faces in this space — and therefore fewer change advocates working toward a better future.
I know I’m not alone in seeing and experiencing this inequity. In the tech industry, women hold less than a third of leadership roles and leave their positions at a 45% higher rate than men. Additionally, nearly 75% of working mothers feel like they have fewer career advancement opportunities than non-mothers — and 71% of women who are not mothers agree with this sentiment.
The tech sector has taken major strides toward gender equality, but a dire need to diversify its workforce remains. A lack of representation in any industry silences an entire group of individuals, causing businesses to miss out on diverse insights and points of view — and customers to miss out on more comprehensive and personalized experiences. Companies with greater gender diversity on executive teams are also 25% more likely to bring in above-average profits, and research consistently shows inclusive teams fuel creativity, innovation and collaboration. Additionally, bias-related turnover costs the tech industry $16 billion annually.
Women represent half the world’s population — it’s time for the technology industry to reflect that reality.
4 Ways to Create Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Workplaces
You can’t diversify an entire workforce overnight — but you can take steps to attract
and retain a diverse workforce. Most importantly, ensure you’re creating a working environment where everyone feels welcomed and supported, and where people from all backgrounds can be allies to their colleagues. From my experiences, here are four actions that have a lasting impact:
1. Prioritize Mentorship
It can be difficult for women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized employees to see themselves in leadership roles when they lack a mentor in such a position. Fortunately, mentor programs are alive and well in most of today’s tech companies, with 84% of U.S. Fortune 500 companies having mentor programs in place. These leaders understand that we’re living in a data-driven world where better data equals more money; however, better data is only valuable if organizations are not only investing in the right tools to fuel that data, but more importantly, investing in their most valuable resource, their people.
Set the women in your organization up for success by implementing mentorship groups, other women-led committees and employee resource groups. Good mentoring can be both formal and informal, the key is whether your organization encourages and supports it. The London Gay Women’s Network has been a notable resource throughout my career. There, I’ve connected with other individuals in the LGBTQ+ community about both work and personal matters. The same goes for queer leadership visibility and connections. If queer mentors are unavailable in your own organization, pair interested employees with leaders across your industry or personal network. Then ask yourself why a lack of mentorship exists at your company — and do the work to fix it.
Doing mentoring right is proven to help companies in recruiting and retention efforts, increasing diversity at every level of the organization, improving employee productivity, gaining a better understanding of customer needs and even accelerating innovation. In fact, according to a BCG study, companies with above-average diversity levels produce almost half of their total revenue from innovation.
2. Encourage Allyship
Beyond mentors, I’ve benefited greatly from the allies and friends with diverse backgrounds I’ve made in my career — and I’m fortunate to work closely with many of these individuals at Eigen. Building a company culture in which allies naturally support and help their colleagues makes a big difference to members of the LGBTQ+ community. To honor Pride Month, Eigen renamed its monthly company-wide meeting “Pride Hall,” where I spoke to the importance of allyship in the workplace and the role allies have played in helping me get to where I am in my career today.
Early in my career, I felt significantly less comfortable being my true self because the environments I worked in had fewer allies — it really makes a difference to feel seen, supported and celebrated by your peers. Allyship often begins with hard conversations and reflection, but taking that step can pave the path for education and awareness. Over the past decade, the industry has really started to see tech leaders step up in this area, but for organizations asking how to promote allyship, here are a few tips.
- Set up community-driven programs. By letting your employees lead, your organization can better understand your employee’s needs, letting their perspectives guide allyship and action within your company.
- Explain allyship and guide your people. Ensure your organization and your people understand what it means to be an ally. This helps companies ensure representation exists across the organization and foster a more inclusive culture while also avoiding performative allyship.
- Bring in outside expertise. Last but not least, if you don’t have access to DEI experts, consider bringing in external partners who can help set your organization up for success.
3. Support Working Families
Women still handle a large portion of the care work in families, so make sure you’re creating an environment where women don’t have to choose between their career or family life. You can start by encouraging men to take parental leave — challenge the status quo and show young women having a family doesn’t mean giving up their careers.
4. Ensure Fair Practices Are In Place
Evaluate your hiring practices, working policies and benefits packages to ensure they’re serving the entire population. You should also evaluate and assess the diversity of your workforce on a continual basis. Use the data generated to better understand your workforce and learn what your employees need, and align your policies with those insights.
Apply these practices to all employees at your organization so each person feels welcomed, supported and respected.
It’s important to cultivate an inclusive environment not only in the tech industry but in every sector — because representation influences much more than just the workplace.
While decision-makers are largely aware of why a wider range of viewpoints and life experiences benefits their organizations, many people don’t realize how a lack of representation also negatively impacts important elements of our lives — like AI decision-making. I’ll elaborate.
How Inadequate Representation Impacts AI Algorithms
Eigen’s co-founder and CEO, Dr. Lewis Z. Liu, recently shared a story with me about his experience as an Asian American using Apple’s face recognition feature when it was first released. After many failed attempts, the authentication technology couldn’t recognize his face. As it turns out, Apple had failed to train its AI model with broad enough sample data to recognize and distinguish people of color.
AI algorithms trained on incomplete, poor quality and unrepresentative data sets usually lead to biased decision-making. While these biases are unconscious most of the time, they often stem from the humans who train and develop algorithms. And it happens more often than you might think.
With nearly 80% of organizations already using AI to power their decision-making, the stakes are high. Algorithms are now central to important decision-making processes across industries — deciding who gets a loan or a job, or even the likelihood a defendant will commit a future crime. Then there are instances of AI decision-making in which biases are potentially life-threatening, like with self driving cars and healthcare.
To make fair and ethical decisions, you need a diverse team of experts powering your AI decision-making functions — and a small data approach doesn’t hurt, either. In fact, big data sets actually cause problems because they’re nearly impossible to understand in detail.
When you prioritize diversity within your organization, you not only contribute to a more inclusive future, but also improve the AI algorithms you currently use to make more ethical decisions. It’s more important than ever to equip your teams with diverse voices, foster inclusivity and equity, and keep an open mind with a willingness to learn and reflect.
About the author: Dr. Simone Bohnenberger-Rich is SVP of Product at Eigen Technologies. Simone leads the Product team at Eigen, providing subject matter expertise, user experience feedback and guiding the development of the firm’s platform. Simone is an expert on how advanced technology can be applied at scale within the front, mid, and back offices of FS institutions. Prior to joining Eigen, Simone was a consultant for Monitor Deloitte specialising in FS, TMT, and healthcare. She has also previously worked for McKinsey & Company and RBS. Simone holds a PhD from the LSE in International Relations focusing on international trade finance, and investment in emerging markets.