Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Diversity Is a Broken Product

Bo Ren, in what I promise is an uplifting piece towards the end:

[We] are told that we don’t cut it, even when we have the same or higher qualifications. There is a gulf between a privileged mediocre candidate and an excellent minority candidate. It’s the tension between the B, B+, B- folks versus the A, A-, A+ folks. Yet, even after college, there’s still grade inflation for mediocre white men.

It is flawed to look to women in power as indicators of progress in diversity. Just having Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, and Marry Barra (all white women) in power is not enough for furthering diversity. If you are an excellent, smart, Ivy League graduate, who is an early employee of a big tech company, you will do just fine despite difficulties and biases along the way. But what about the the other candidates who are not as fortunate?

There are other industries that are heavily skewed towards particular combinations of gender and ethnicity, but the ongoing focus on improving diversity in tech is because it shouldn’t be skewed. Its promise is an egalitarianism that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Tech is an inherently complex industry, with people working in everything from design and creative pursuits to physical engineering and finance. It should span the gamut, particularly due to its growing influence and power. Yet it remains an industry largely dominated by white male figures in all positions, from interns to CEOs.

And it shows: Apple debuted a Health app in iOS 8 without the capability to track menstrual cycles; Google’s photo recognition software tagged black people as “gorillas”; software from both HP and Microsoft has had problems with recognizing the faces of darker-skinned users; and, just this year, Microsoft held a party with dancers dressed as erotic schoolgirls mere hours after holding a luncheon discussing women in gaming.

Do we think any of these issues would have occurred if any of these companies hired more people of colour, more women, or more people who live at the intersection of multiple sources of discrimination?