Sarah Juma, co-founder of StyleID, wrote a guest column for The Globe and Mail on diversity in the tech industry.
June 18, 2014
Google recently released its first diversity report. The only real surprise to me was the public response to the fact that only 2 per cent of their work force is black. Social media caught fire. It became a trending topic on Twitter and a top story on the evening news. I came across a meme saying black women had a better chance of being hit by lightning than being employed at Google.
Calm down people: Let’s all take a step back, followed by some deep breathing.
Although the report is likely an accurate depiction of the tech industry in North America, it’s unfair to place blame solely on these companies. We need to gather all the facts. Assuming that roles in a tech company require education in a particular field, how many black women qualify for the listed positions? Is it more than one per cent? If a significant difference exists, we need to explore other questions like: how many black women apply for these positions, and what are the hiring practices within tech companies?
I’m inclined to believe that the lack of diversity in these organization is a reflection of past shortcomings in education and mentorship for women of colour. I grew up in a household with immigrant parents, who wholeheartedly believed that in order to succeed you had to be one of three things: a teacher, a doctor or a lawyer.
Like any other child being pushed to do something, I pushed back. I chose to pursue a career at the opposite end of the spectrum, the entertainment industry. I now find myself as a non-technical woman of colour in the male-dominated field of technology.
As a female founder of a tech startup, I want to influence the next generation. I started my work in the music industry and parlayed my love for entertainment and media into StyleID, a mobile application that helps you find and purchase items you see on television. If I’ve learned anything from my experiences so far, it’s that being an entrepreneur means forging your own path. There’s no specific formula that guarantees success; it’s all based on research, estimations, instincts and opportunities.
Being a female founder has its challenges: Not only do I have to navigate the gender gap, break the glass ceiling and avoid dealing the race card, I need supporters to open their wallets, and mentors – from other successful companies – to lend time.
I’d like to think however, that in the end, I have the advantage of a new perspective in the industry. There’s a lot of room for growth, but it should begin with all of us – men and women alike – advocating and supporting women within all industries.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Through the Google for Entrepreneurs program, StyleID found a safe and welcoming place within Communitech, a touchstone for tech companies located in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.
Connecting with like minded founders facing similar issues is always cathartic. For women who work in tech, there are great organizations, such as Geek Girl Dinners and Women Power Technology, which encourage open discussion and work hard to create equal opportunity within the community.
Rather than criticize Google for its lack of diversity, I commend them for their transparency. I view the diversity report as the beginning of a tech company exploring how it can build an inclusive work environment for the underrepresented. I’m confident that they, like those businesses that have come before them, will eventually reach an even keel. I encourage both genders, of all colours, to take control and to not be discouraged by perceived and temporary barriers.
Sarah Juma is the co-founder of StyleID. With experience in marketing and media, she is tech savvy and has an interest in retail and ecommerce. Sarah is a Kitchener-Waterloo native and active within her community.
Image by Matt Stempeck