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Tech and Diversity

I have been surrounded by technology related news in the past week, perhaps because I am at the heart of technology world, Sillicon Valley. And from what I am hearing, there seems to be a serious consideration to get into the African continent. Toyota announced 30 million dollars investment for African startups, Google announced 20 million, Ali Baba is also launching a fund. This is of course in addition to IBM, Microsoft and a few others.

These funds will certainly play an important role in developing the different tech hubs that a few African countries have been working to develop their own versions of a silicon valley. The most famous ones being Kenya’s Silicon Savannah, Nigeria’s Yabacon Valley and South Africa’s Silicon Cape. Ethiopia is also throwing itself in that race by developing the ICT Village; some have called it the Sheba Valley.  

A few days ago a document by a Google employee came to light and it has brought to the forefront a side to the conversation about diversity that is being ignored. It is an unfortunate time for Google to be faced with this as it is currently being investigated by the labor department on discrimination. There have been accusations of Google paying its female employees far less than male employees for the same position. Take a minute to process that, in 2017, women get paid less than men for doing the same job because they have different anatomic parts. It baffles me!

The overall point of the document circulated by the male Google employee was to explain his opposition to Google’s efforts to hire more women by arguing that the lack of women in the tech world is not because of bias but because of inherent psychological differences between men and women. He argues that lack of women in the tech world, i.e. the gender gap, is not necessarily sexist. We cannot disagree that there are differences between men and women; nonetheless to turn diversity in the work place discussion into a discussion about “psychological” differences is scary and very eye opening on perspectives.

I find it fascinating that a sector that is innovating and changing the world and our every day routines is struggling to get something that is so basic: discrimination. I have such a hard time understanding how people who have revolutionized how we search documents, how we stay in touch with our friends and so much more struggle with understanding that paying men and women equally is basic. Also, how hiring women and people of color in their company only makes their knowledge base better.

In my opinion, the dialogue on diversity is often misunderstood. Diversity is thought of as a way of making the work place more “colorful’ by adding more people of color and women. Although diversity does create a “colorful” place, that is not the goal. What tech companies, and many other non-tech companies, fail to understand is that by hiring a person from a different background, it allows them to better cater their product to a different market. If the workforce of a company is 90 per cent male, I will bet my life that it is not fully addressing the needs of its female, black or other person of color’s needs. By adding people from that community they will be able to get a better picture on how to do that best, thereby creating a better product.

As all these companies make a run to capture the African market, I cannot help but wonder how many Africans they will recruit and whether the “new African market penetration” effort will include nationals from the different countries, both men and women. I also wonder if the pay will be non-discriminatory. I hope that while we import the tech companies, we also do not also import their lack of diversity practices.