Diversity in the Digital Age: Spread risk, own your biases | #WomenInTech

Russell

Increasing diversity in technology can have two meanings. First, there is the need to hire and retain a diverse workforce that can improve company growth and revenue. Secondly, there is a need to diversify skillsets to adjust in the Digital Age.

Kate Russell, journalist, author and BBC and ITV contributor, spoke to Stu Miniman (@stu), host of theCUBE*, from the SiliconANGLE Media team, during Nutanix 2016 .NEXT Europe. During the interview, Russell addressed how she diversifies her role to remain relevant, and examines the gender gap in technology jobs, providing insight on the corporate responsibility to mitigate a decreasing female population.

Along with her reporting, Russell is the author of three books, writes columns for National Geographic Traveller magazine and Web User magazine. Her first book, Working the Cloud, and companion website workingthecloud.biz are the ultimate collection of online tips, tricks and resources for small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs who want to get ahead online. And in her spare time, she educates people at universities and heads up panels and conferences about digital policy for the government.

This week theCUBE highlights Russell, technology reporter with a longstanding weekly engagement on the BBC2 and BBC World News program Click, in our Women in Tech feature.

Spreading risk and opportunity

When listing her assignments as a freelancer, one can see that Russell’s jobs span the spectrum. She noted that employment in the media today requires one to spread risk, as the media undergoes the digital transformation and seeks ways to monetize product and content.

“When you are freelance, you can’t have all your eggs in one basket, so I found being a freelancer for 20 odd years, the way to sustain a workable income is to have it spread across lots of different micro income so that when one of them implodes, your life doesn’t implode with it.”

Russell has a broad range of interests, from space robots and drones to — as she calls it — “the nitty-gritty of policy and the startup sector in the digital area.” For her, the ever-changing technology industry is exciting.

While at Nutanix 2016 .NEXT Europe, Russell headed up an executive track, named “Equal IT: Profiting From Diversity in the Tech World,” for 40 people to discuss why diversity is good for business.

“Studies show that if you’ve got a more diverse workforce, you are able to attract and keep top talent, your workforce is more in line with your consumers,” stated Russell. She cited a McKinsey study from earlier this year that indicates companies with diverse management roles are three times more profitable than their competitors who don’t have these diverse roles.

According to Russell, the problem is not just in the technology industry. However, she pointed out that women only hold 26 percent of digital jobs and the number decreases by about five percent year-after-year when you look at women on the management level.

“So we are struggling to fix the diversity issue, and we are failing,” she stated. “We are still losing half a percent year-on-year, so this is the drum I started to bang now.”

What’s broken?

It is not a lack of awareness or the desire to change that is missing from the equation. Russell blames the methodology, pointing out that in the past few years there’s been momentum in the effort to increase diverse representation in technology companies and yet the numbers keep falling.

“So for five to eight years we’ve been pushing to get more diverse representation inside tech companies, and we are failing,” she reported.

So, if the will is there, why is there still a disparity? Analyzing the situation, Russell remarked that 75 percent of CEOs have gender and ethnic diversity in their top 10 list of priorities. In her estimation, progressing women through the ranks falls short as you go down the management structure and comes from a lack of training or knowledge.

“There are so many things working against you. We have a tendency to hire people that are like us. We have a tendency to make snap judgments while reading a resume based on a name or some cultural reference within the list of jobs,” she asserted.

Going on to unravel the reasoning, she talked about unconscious decisions to filter people out. Therefore, she suggested the tactic of making the application process anonymous to eliminate bias.

She also covered the lack of mentorship programs for women. Citing the McKinsey study again, Russell noted that women do not have the same level of access to senior-level mentors. Russell clarified that mentorship should not be an afterthought. The program should provide a level of understanding of who the person is overall. Knowing a person when things are calm and centered provides a better perspective when and if things go wrong.

“It takes money; it takes time; it takes a degree of skill or the commitment to bring in a consultant to help you,” concluded Russell. “It’s all very well to have diversity on the top 10 list of things you want to achieve, but unless you put some actual resources behind that then it’s only ever going to be a Christmas list to Santa Claus.”

Taking the unconscious bias test

“Everybody should take an unconscious bias test,” Russell asserted. Unconscious biases are the determinations you make based on things that are not within your conscious control. These are the automatic and quick judgments and assessments of people and situations based on an individual’s background, cultural environment and personal experiences.

Russell divulged that she suffers from unconscious gender bias. However, upon reflection, she realized that being a teenager in the ’70s and ’80s subconsciously ingrained these biases of that era.

“When you are aware of it, you can own it … and recognize it in other people,” Russell said. She believes you can use it to address bias from a place of understanding, not anger.

About Kate Russell

Russell published her sci-fi first novel in 1994. The story comes a decade after her first spark of interest in technology, when she decided to write a remake of the computer game – Elite Dangerous: Elite: Mostly Harmless.

Recently, her second fantasy fiction book, A Bookkeepers Guide to Practical Sorcery, was released on Amazon. She is currently crowdfunding on kickstarter.com to get the book narrated by British actor Charles Collingwood.

*Disclosure: Nutanix Inc. and other companies sponsor some Nutanix 2016 .NEXT Europe segments on SiliconANGLE Media’s theCUBE. Neither Nutanix nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE and theCUBE’s coverage of Nutanix 2016. NEXT Europe.

Photo by SiliconANGLE