Diversity at the Cloud Foundry Summit

May 21, 2015 Abby Kearns

sfeatured-CFSummitLast week at the inaugural Cloud Foundry Summit, now run by the new Cloud Foundry Foundation, we had a unique opportunity to gather and discuss gender diversity. 125 women attended a luncheon that included a keynote on the gender gap in technology, as well as a panel discussion that focused on gender diversity in an open source software community.

The luncheon was kicked off by Robin Hauser Reynolds, the filmmaker who recently premiered her film Code: Debugging the Gender Gap at the Tribeca Film Festival. Robin walked through the background, research and data that went into the documentary to illustrate the challenges that exist today in technology, and what the future ramifications of this gap will bring.

Robin began with a report from the White House, “The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer-science-related jobs available and only 400,000 computer science graduates with the skills to apply for those jobs.” This leaves 1 million jobs unfilled. Why is this so skewed? While there are numerous factors, one of the most pronounced is that we have discounted half of the population.

While a handful of women have been pioneers in the technology industry with icons like Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer, and Grace Hopper who invented the first compiler and coined the still used term of “bug”, inspired by removing an actual moth from her computer, today, it is increasingly rare to spot women in the white, male dominated tech industry.

Diversity = Innovation

 

Why is Diversity Important to Innovation?

Citing a couple of jarring of “Boys Club Blunders”, Robin talked about how inventions like the airbag and voice activation failed to work consistently, if at all, for female users. They had been developed by men, and were tested exclusively on men. These use cases highlight how innovation could be significantly improved if team diversity was improved.

Robin then touched on the Female Factor, published by Harvard Business Review in 2011, which says that regardless of the individual IQs of people on a team, the collective IQ of of the team rises when there are women on the team. Interestingly, it raises even higher as you add more women.

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Panel on Diversity in an Open Source Software Community

Following Robin’s keynote we kicked off the panel discussion on diversity in an open source software community. The panelist included Rachel Reinitz (IBM), Malini Bhandaru (Intel), Sheryl Chamberlain (Capgemini), Cornelia Davis (Pivotal), Eileen Evans (HP), as well as Robin Hauser Reynolds. The discussion that followed really showed the desire for conversation, as well as offered up solutions that organizations were implementing that could enable other teams to become more diverse. A few of the discussion points included:

  • Encourage companies to make diversity mandatory for interview panels. Ensure that those who participate in the interview process are diverse. This helps mitigate unconscious biases that can occur.
  • Practice listening. As a former graduate student teacher, Cornelia Davis learned early on that she should wait an uncomfortably long time at the end of a lecture for questions, as students, particularly women, gather the courage to form their questions and raise their hands.
  • Seek out diversity in applicants. Do not accept that you are just not getting enough submissions for jobs, speaking opportunities, or committees. Often women read job descriptions with several specific requirements as a disclaimer that they should not apply; whereas men often read the same requirements as skills they could further develop on the job. Organizers need to seek out and encourage more diverse participation.
  • Carefully balance diversity and merit. In trying to correct the gender and race gaps, it would be unfair to not hire or include the best candidate for the role, simply because they didn’t fit a diversity statistic. This is a tricky balance, and one that should not unjustly exclude anyone.
  • Encourage a broader range of people to become more technical. Lots of skills, including soft skills, translate well to technology jobs. There are many programs like Galvanize and She’s Coding, to name only two, that help train those with a variety of backgrounds.
  • Tell more stories of diverse role models. We need to get more stories out there about our successes, but more importantly, the journey. These can help show that there are others that look like them successful in the industry.
  • Develop more teachers. More people should be trained up as teachers, to enable a broader reach and support a growing demand for technology professionals, and others that are interested in learning more about technology. This could include sponsorship in Cloud Foundry Dojos.
  • Create a supportive environment. Establish strict codes of conduct that guide the right behaviors in a community. As women we should make an effort to be more inclusive and supportive, and less judgemental.
  • Change Hollywood’s portrayal of women. We need to encourage Hollywood, and the media industry at large, to place more diversity and acceptance at the core of their programming to help eradicate misogynistic and discriminatory behavior, as well as encourage confidence.
  • Open the discussion to everyone. The timing and room size limitations for this event limited attendance to just women, but it was quickly pointed out that an all women conversation is itself lacking diversity. The entire community, inclusive for all races, genders, orientations, and lifestyles, should be part of this conversation in order to find meaningful solutions.

What’s Next?

The attendance and the level of participation at the luncheon, as well as at the the Birds of a Feather session held on the second day of Cloud Foundry Summit, was awe-inspiring. The questions and discussions during the events, as well as outside of the events, really showed the desire, and need for a continuing conversation.

In a few weeks there will be a follow up meeting with Sam Ramji, CEO of the Cloud Foundry Foundation, to determine how we move forward, and what actionable steps can be taken to continue the progress. We are also setting up a Google Group in the next couple of weeks, to offer a platform for the continuing conversation on diversity in the Cloud Foundry Foundation community. We hope that you will join us in this conversation, and building a diverse community.

I wanted to end with a quote from Sam Ramji, in the keynote that kicked off Cloud Foundry Summit, “we see a human community that is:

  • Pragmatic, focused on exchanging practical experience
  • Diverse, inclusive of people across race, gender, orientation, and lifestyle
  • Respectful, committed to listening to thoughtful and honest perspectives.

 

Watch The Recording Of The Cloud Foundry Foundation Diversity Luncheon

 

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