THE BLOG
08/11/2014 11:52 am ET Updated Oct 11, 2014

Inequality in Tech: May I ask one more question?

The following post is by Mandela Schumacher-Hodge, Director of Startup Education

First, it started with Why aren't more women in tech?

Recently, it's progressed to Why aren't more people of color in tech?

Slowly but surely, increasingly more people are questioning the current state of affairs in the tech industry, as it relates to gender and race inequality. Beginning with Google and followed by Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, several well-known companies are for the first time ever, taking off their veil of ignorance, and confronting the fact that there is a massive gender and racial gap in the field of tech. Google fares worst in the gender category with an employee makeup that's 70% male and 30% female, and eerily all five tech giants only have 2% Black representation. This exposed problem has certainly sparked a healthy dialogue about why these disparities exist, and what we can do to remedy them. Everyone seems to agree that this is definitely a step in the right direction; however, I'd like to propose that one more question be asked that I think "cuts to the chase" and has the potential to expedite our arrival to the root of the problem:

 Why do humans create, perpetuate, and/or accept any type of inequality? 

The lack of women and people of color in tech is increasingly being called out as an alarming inequality; however, inequality in human relations isn't a foreign concept by any stretch of the imagination. Inequality also doesn't just show up in the form of gender and racial disparities, but is frequently a consequence of socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, physical or intellectual impairments, amongst other things. Wearing an innumerable amount of faces, inequality has seeped its way into nearly every crevice of society, and some may even argue, is a fundamental part of human nature that's persisted since the beginning of time. Just take a look outside the tech industry, and you'll see that there aren't many areas of society where inequality hasn't taken root:

Education

  • Only 8% of students growing up in poverty graduate from college by age 24, compared with 80% of students in more affluent areas. (source)

  • The Black college graduation rate is 44%. The White college graduation rate is 66%. This roughly 20% point racial gap has persisted for more than the past two decades. (source)

Workforce

  • 15-43% of gay people and 90% of transgender workers have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment at the workplace. (source)

  • Women are paid 77 cents to every man's dollar, and this hasn't changed for over a decade. (source)

  • Latinos earn less than other groups and are more likely to earn the minimum wage. The median wealth of white households is 15 times that of Hispanic households. (source)

  • Adults age 21 to 64 with disabilities had median monthly earnings of $1,961 compared with $2,724 for those with no disability. (source)

Government

  • There are 195 countries in the world, but only 11 countries have elected a woman to serve as head of state. The United States is not among those 11 nations. (source)

  • A married heterosexual couple with $45,000 in income filing their taxes jointly would get a $50 refund from the federal government; whereas a same-sex couple has to file separately and they would owe $2,165 in taxes. (source)

  • Income for the country's top 1 percent has increased by 275 percent over the past 30 years, while growth for the remaining 99% has stagnated (source)

Prison

  • 1 in 3 Black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Blacks and Hispanics are approximately 3x more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. Blacks are 2x as likely to be arrested and almost 4x as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. (source)

  • While people with intellectual disabilities comprise 2-3% of the general population, they represent 4-10% of the population in prison and an even larger portion of the population in juvenile facilities and jails. (source)

Religion

  • 60% of people in the pews are women, but fewer than 10% of all U.S. congregations are led by a woman. (source)

Media

  • The top 10 highest paid actors in Hollywood are all men. (source)

  • Newsroom gender diversity is pretty much the same as it was in 1999, with women making up less than 40% of the workforce. (source)

The truth is, technology may have advanced, but that doesn't mean human consciousness has. Whenever I look at these numbers, I often times feel ashamed at the vast injustices we've created, knowingly or not, and can easily feel overwhelmed at the task ahead for us to right these wrongs. But then I recall a statement Helen Keller once made:

I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.

So with that in mind, I have been reflecting on what each of us, personally, can do to move the needle in the direction of equality for all. Starting with these three simple acts, it is my hope that if we all engage in an authentic internal dialogue, become increasingly more aware of the role we play (directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally) in the creation and perpetuation of inequality, and take more ownership in remedying these social ills, our individual ripples will lend itself to a larger wave of change.

Become Aware

Turn inward, ask yourself these questions, and honestly answer them:

  • Why do humans create, perpetuate, and/or accept inequality?

  • How does it feel to be a person receiving unequal opportunities or treatment?

  • Where am I exhibiting inequality in my beliefs, thoughts, words, and actions?

  • Where am I witnessing inequality?

Leverage Support

There are several organizations whose mission is specifically focused on creating a more just society, and these organizations' have a plethora of resources, programming, and support systems that you can leverage to initiate change. I can't list them all here, but I'll start with those organizations that are explicitly dedicated to creating a more inclusive tech industry:

Take Action

It's not enough to know that something is wrong; you must act to make it right. Have the conversation with your human resources director about what's being done to create a more equitable workplace. Educate the person who made the prejudice comment that that type of behavior is inappropriate and unwelcome. Whatever you do, the key is that you actually do something, for as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, "There comes a time when (even) silence is betrayal."

It is my belief that if you want to create lasting change on the outside, you must first make a significant shift on the inside. Some call it a shift in consciousness, others call it a shift in awareness, and many just call it an increase in empathy. Whatever you call it, or don't call it, I encourage you to seek out the answer to one more question: Why do humans create, perpetuate, and/or accept inequality? I'm hopeful that the answer you find will help us identify the solution needed to not just get more women and people of color in tech, but create a more equitable society altogether.