When I first tell people I live in Silicon Hills, most people look at me with a very confused expression. They’re typically familiar with Silicon Valley and the many large tech companies that serve us ads via Instagram, but they’re strangers to the presence those same companies have here in Austin, Texas. They also have little to no clue about the booming tech ecosystem that includes many diverse startup companies unless they regularly monitor tech publications.
But even though select non-Austinites have little knowledge of our tech scene, there are plenty of Austin residents who are unaware of issues happening behind the scenes.
At yesterday’s Diversity in Tech event at Huston-Tillotson University, the Blnded Media Team had the opportunity to hear from a host of professionals who want to make sure more Austinites are aware of the good that’s happening in our tech scene, but also learn about how we can make it more diverse.
We must all first realize what diversity truly means. Most people think it is simply a black and white issue, but it is a term that encompasses race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic, geographic, academic backgrounds and more. While Austin’s tech scene is currently heavily benefiting one group of entrepreneurs, there are many other groups who suffer due to not having access to the exact same resources.
Steps to Success
Mayor Steve Adler opened yesterday’s event by stating that Austin has more startups per capita than any other city in the country. Even though the number of startups in town is massive, he recognizes that we are not the Diversity Innovation Capital, as the number of minorities, especially women, involved in the tech scene is not as high as he would like. He does recognize that our city is the Social Innovation Capital, as entrepreneurs can take their innovations and apply them to social challenges. He is proud that we’ve made it to this point, but he does not like how the faces behind those innovations all look alike.
When Mayor Adler was joined on stage by Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, President of Huston-Tillotson University, the conversation evolved into what other cities are “doing diversity well” (Mayor Adler has his eye on Houston), and what Austin can do to keep our current large tech companies in town.
It’s unfortunate to know that less than 10% of venture capital funding goes to underserved minority communities, and only .2% of women get those investments. Changing this will certainly take time, but how do we start to make this change now?
Mayor Adler and Dr. Burnette both say it starts by training tech leaders and CEOs and showing them the benefits of hiring a diverse staff. Once execs leave their comfort zone and expand the range of their network, change will come. It’s known that we as people see and learn through our social contacts and surroundings, so we must branch out and touch communities that we are not involved in.
This also means we should begin training our youth to have a different lens. Tech companies in Austin must value education in the form of summer internships and programs in order help train the next generation of coders, UX/UI designers, growth hackers, and CEOs to take over and create diverse environments.
Silence Sounds Like Approval
We often hear the phrase “If you see something, say something” in reference to homeland security, but we need to do better at speaking up to protect diversity in our work homes. By staying silent in environments that are not diverse, we’re adding to the problem. Dr. Burnette mentioned that there are good people who work in racist systems, but without changing their mindsets, the cycle will continue.
What do you think is next for diversity in Austin, and how can we help improve the lives of diverse entrepreneurs in town? Let us know in the comments.
Special thanks to Natalie Madeira Cofield & Urban Co-Lab for putting on such an amazing event alongside sponsors including the City of Austin, Google, Dropbox, Huston-Tillotson University, Figure 8, Southside Pizza, Facebook, and Accruent.