As kids, our parents and teachers try to instil in us that just because we want something, it doesn't mean we'll get it or be able to will it into existence. Hard work, focus on the task at hand, and perseverance are crucial in achieving certain goals, whether you want to save up for that shiny toy on the shelf or win first place in the local gymnastics competition.
This particular lesson feels newly relevant in light of the findings of LinkedIn's second annual member survey on the state of diversity in tech and venture capital. The survey culled over 500 startup investors and founders, asking them questions about gender and racial discrimination, efforts to increase diversity, and priorities in the workplace. The results are dismal.
"Leaders across technology are convinced that diversity in the workplace will be a non-issue within five years," LinkedIn Managing Editor Caroline Fairchild writes in her overview of the report. "The problem? Very few say they are doing anything to make that prediction come true."
In a ranking of venture capital priorities, 46% of people said it was most important that "founders demonstrate an ability to execute on the business plan" while only 2% said it was important that "founders have shown they're committed to building a diverse team." Among both investors and founders, over 70% of respondents said they had seen little or no change in how the industry treats gender and racial discrimination. Only between 26 and 27% said they had seen perceptions change for the better.
That isn't so surprising since, according to the report, diversity efforts aren't exactly a priority: Between 59 and 69% of respondents said their firms and startups were not supporting official initiatives to increase diversity. According to Fairchild, some of the founders surveyed wrote in that they thought "companies shouldn't address gender and race issues at all."
With regards to sexual harassment, the results were similarly bleak. Only 35% of female founders think that, in the future, it will be more challenging for venture capitalists to behave inappropriately. Male founders were more positive, with 56% saying they thought it would be more difficult for venture capitalists to engage in inappropriate behaviour.
"The industry simply can’t afford to have smart, talented women driven away because of who we’re letting guard the door.”
These results would be disappointing in any year, but they're especially disappointing given the top-level fallouts stemming from these persistent problems in tech in 2017. The survey was conducted online between 25th September and 6th November; this means that survey respondents were weighing in after many of the negative events that put the tech industry in the news this year, including ex-Googler James Damore's "anti-diversity" memo, sexual harassment and discrimination allegations at Uber, the and multiple departures of prominent venture capitalists following reports of sexual harassment.
“In tech, where entrenched sexism has long kept talented women from rising through the ranks, we desperately need a culture change," Melinda Gates told Refinery29 in response to the report. "It’s time companies identify and commit to diversity targets that will help bring more women into this industry and keep them there. The industry simply can’t afford to have smart, talented women driven away because of who we’re letting guard the door.”
The need for a culture change has been called for by many, including former attorney general Eric H. Holder. He conducted an investigation into Uber's culture, and published his recommendations on ways to reform that company's culture in June.
Figuring out how to make that change remains a looming challenge. From LinkedIn's study, it looks like the problem with enacting a widespread culture change is that despite the talk about the need for diversity, not everyone is on board with making it happen. As a result, effective action isn't taking place. Not to mention that systemic discrimination and practices are hard to root out.
It isn't enough to invest in groups supporting women in STEM and speak on panels about the need for more women in tech — change needs to take place in the open-plan workspaces where men and women work on an everyday basis. After all, studies show that retention is a big part of the problem with the numbers of women in tech: Women quit their jobs twice as much as men.
Obviously, change on this level doesn't happen overnight. But everyone in the industry should want to make it happen, if not for themselves for their peers and all who will come after them. The question is, how do tech companies get everyone on board?