Argyle Analytics On Why Diversity Matters

Argyle Analytics Is Proud To Be An LGBTQ Owned Firm

Argyle Analytics is an LGBTQ owned and operated business so it's only natural that I care about, and passionately support, open dialogue about issues of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability as it pertains to the technology field. Simply put, if we can't have open and respectful, data-driven, conversations about this issue nothing is ever going to change.

Argyle Analytics & #techInColor

As the Principal Analyst of Argyle Analytics, I am proud to be one of the co-organizers of #techInColor and want to give a shout out to my fellow co-organizers:

Each year, #techInColor partners with a local nonprofit who, in one way or another, is helping uplift people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, women, or folks from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. We recruit sponsors to cover our event budget, but we keep that budget as lean as possible so that any net sponsorship dollars go to the nonprofit as an unrestricted gift.

For 2016, #techInColor introduced "Success Hacks: Paving Your Own Way In Tech" to help open up the dialog about the hopes and dreams that diverse technologists in the Philadelphia area have for their careers and some of the real challenges they face due belonging to one or more flavors of "Diversity". 

Check out the video of our first panel discussion where we heard from trainees and interns at Hopeworks N' Camden.

#techInColor presents "Success Hacks: Paving Your Own Way in Tech" for Philly Tech Week 2016. This video is the first panel of the night: Young trainees from Hopeworks 'N Camden share their stories. Moderated by Derrick H. Pitts, chief astronomer & planetarium director for Franklin Institute Science Museum. ASL interpreting by DHCC.

For three years in a row now I have partnered with other technologists in Philadelphia, to organize #techInColor. This annual event celebrates the diversity we have in our tech community here in Philadelphia. This annual event is a passion project and is one of my favorite parts about working in the tech field here in Philly. Each year I get to connect and grow relationships with some of the most dynamic, exciting, and talented technologists in the region. Their enthusiasm is contagious, their ambitions are inspiring, and their stories are both humbling and eye opening.

I am not ashamed to say this event has grown in cache over the years and we are getting featured in the news because of it.

Diversity In Technology

To paraphrase one of my co-organizers, Tracy Levesque, web designer, developer, and co-owner of YIKES!.

“The idea that technology is a meritocracy is a myth.”
— Tracy Levesque of YIKES! Web Development

While I am hopeful that merit counts more than race when it comes to building a career technology, the stats reveal that my optimism is maybe not warranted. Let's take a look at some data on the subject, just as a conversation starter.

Gender Bias In The Sciences

This 2013 Article on profiling "6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism" describes the shameful way patriarchal norms robbed women have of their due credit for major scientific breakthroughs and discoveries ranging from the discovery of pulsars to the discovery of DNA's helical structure.

While some readers might note that many of these acts of sexism occurred in the mid-20th Century, when we know sexism, sexual harassment, and violence towards women were commonplace, but surely we have moved beyond such unsophisticated modes of thinking, I would say, "Guess again." As recently as 2012, an academic study indicated that subtle gender bias may still be alive and well in academic settings. While I can't speak personally to the body of evidence for or against the systemic reach of this bias, my personal experience doesn't suggest much has changed.

Racial Bias In Hiring

My undergraduate degree is in Psychology, so I have spent a lot of time learning the extent to which humanity are both angels and devils. I recall the outrage I felt when my Social Psychology professor at Boise State University walked my class through a body of research that demonstrates that job applicants with decidedly African American names were subject to a subtle bias in hiring processes (here is a link to an example of this kind of research). While this bias in the minds of HR recruiters and hiring managers may not be an intentional thing and may occur on a subconscious level, it's still a sad commentary on the general lack of self-awareness most folks have about the internal workings of their minds. I am not advocating that all caucasian folks should develop an internalized sense of, "white guilt." However, I would call on all my readers to please be aware that we are all subject to these kinds of unconscious biases, and admitting we are at risk for these subtle biases is the first step in making sure we don't introduce them into our world of work.

Gender Bias In Technology

My husband is a Sr. Software Developer and, not surprisingly, holds many of the same attitudes and opinions as I do. One of his personal heroes is U.S. Navy Admiral Grace Hopper (1906 - 1992). She is among the most influential pioneers in the development of computer programming languages. I love this woman. We admire her so much that we included her in a geeky art ensemble in our home featuring some of our favorite scientists. Not only is Admiral Hopper brilliant, but quirky and fun; probably much to the consternation of some of her more conservative and traditional peers. In the article I just linked to, she is quoted as saying:

Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.
— Grace Hopper

However, long before Admiral Hopper made her great contributions to the field of computer programming, we have Alan Turing, credited with being the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. Alan Turing was also gay at a time in British history when LGBTQ folks were treated as mentally ill criminals. Despite Alan's contributions to the Allied Forces winning World War II, which most likely saved countless lives and save us all from Nazi fascism, the British Courts convicted him of, "Gross Indecency." The British Press vilified Alan, and the courts sentenced him to chemical castration by medical doctors. On June 8th, 1952, Alan Turing was found dead, and it's believed that he committed suicide by ingesting cyanide. While there is some speculation about the cause of death and whether it was an accident, my biases lean more towards suicide. A 2002 study published in the American Journal of Public Health presents research indicating that LGBTQ folks are at an increased risk for suicide and credible health authorities attribute this to the social biases against LGBTQ folks. I am grateful my husband and I live in a city recently rated as one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in America. However, I am not blind to the fact that many LGBTQ folks live in areas of the country where they face employment, housing, and other forms of discrimination, violence, and social isolation. My heart bleeds for those folks and part of me weeps that there is little I can do for them.

So what does this have to do with gender bias in technology?

It's simple, even in a career field that is routinely held up as being more based on meritocracy than appearances, guess again. Ars Technica recently published an article about gender bias in GitHub code commits. The article describes how code contributors are treated by project leads if the lead can identify the contributor as female. In short, if the lead can identify the contributor as female, and the contributor is new or unknown to the project, the stats indicate a reliable bias in whether or not the lead will accept the code into the code base.

This graph from the Ars Technica article shows that women contributing code to open source software projects are less likely than men to have their contributions accepted if the digital identity of the contributor is female.

What's truly interesting about this article is that when you look at the number of code submissions merged into the final product you see a rather impressive set of numbers. The graph below demonstrates that project leads accept code submissions by women at higher rates when compared to male contributors. Simply put, there is every indication that women produce better code than men. The authors of the study attribute this to the sheer grit and hard work women have to put into their work as software developers for project leads to considered their code as good as a man's. In other words, men can get away with subpar work, but not have to deal with the professional consequences of subpar work products.

This graph from the same  Ars Technica article  shows that women are more likely to have their code merged into the final code base on their open source software projects.

This graph from the same Ars Technica article shows that women are more likely to have their code merged into the final code base on their open source software projects.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

I have a personal commitment, both as a professional and as a citizen, to try and treat all people with respect and dignity. My goal might sound simple, but believe me, it's not. It takes effort and commitment because it's not as simple as just being polite to folks. It requires us to accept that folks are different from us and that sometimes that makes us uncomfortable. We need to own our discomfort, confront it inside ourselves, and power through it.

Diversity Makes Good Business Sense

Valuing diversity in one's industry isn't just a matter of civic duty or basic human decency, it makes good business sense too. Diversity in organizations helps lead to innovation, product development, and expanding your market share. At the end of the day, any real business person should be looking for opportunities to grow their customer base and meet the needs of their clients.

Google and other digital marketing platforms have turned the marketing world upside down in the last decade and a half. The days where you could just blast society with advertising and rely on classical conditioning to brainwash customers into thinking they need your products are coming to a close.

Consumers Demonstrate Higher Engagement With Content That Celebrates Diversity

Daniel Alegre, President of Global Partnerships at Google, posted on Google's DoubleClick Advertisers Blog, that that Google has been forging new relationships to advance programmatic ad insertion into various streaming media television platforms such as Roku. Google's innovation means that folks who stream media through boxes of some kind (Roku, tablets, game consoles, etc.) are likely to see ads that are not only more targeted based on demographics, but also based on their interactions with other media. This targeted media is huge for content strategists, because not only do you need to know who your target audience is from a demographic angle, but need to be aware of their attitudes, perspectives, and values. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, recently published an analysis of consumer engagement around YouTube ads with empowering messages aimed at women. I was very pleased to read that these ads were some of the top performing ads for the periods under analysis and encourage you to read the article linked to above.

You Can Also Be A Champion For Diversity

I would encourage anyone who took the time to consider my thoughts to share this post with someone you know and use it as a conversation starter to talk about diversity in your world of work. Don't be afraid to have open and honest conversations about it and make an effort to have respectful conversations and build your network. Don't worry about folks being offended about wanting to discuss the issue for fear of being labeled gauche, ignorant, or bigoted. Just stick to the Golden Rule and you will be fine...and you never know when you might find a new business opportunity in a place you never thought to look before.