Being a woman in tech these days is such a hot topic. Not hot in the way that people envy you, but hot in the way a re-run generates buzz even though everyone saw the show the first time.
This water cooler fascination extended its way into Dreamforce, where most panelists were asked about, or voluntarily mentioned the need for greater diversity in the tech industry. With predominant missteps by industry leaders (Google Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft and see what you find), it was certainly timely, and at times felt like a genuine (if proverbial) olive branch.
Marc Andreesen had two constructive points to bring to the conversation.
To foster inclusion in the tech industry, we need a more diverse pipeline of skilled candidates and ways for them to access professional networks. Marc personally donated a half million dollars last week toward the first point, which gave fantastic visibility to several deserving organizations.
The second recommendation is harder, because no one person or organization has definitively cracked networking, let alone figured out how to apply it to issues like inclusion. Even without a definitive solution, though, DreamForce could probably take some solid cracks in that direction, next year, by opening up conference seats to under-represented groups that could benefit from its network and professional exposure. Perhaps even participants from the organizations Marc recently donated to.
Reducing the issue of inclusion to a few rehearsed bullet points on a stage made it feel like a pat on the back to people who could compose there thoughts enough to not sound like a douchebag or make headline news. Of course we all know inclusion is an issue. So tell me about what your company is doing and who you brought with you today to penetrate this 140,000 person network. Anything said would come off as more genuine if I wasn’t surrounded by a sea of white dudes.
Dreamforce should be commended for addressing the need for greater inclusion in the tech industry head on and center stage. Like any problem, the first step is acknowledging it, and that acknowledgement was accomplished well and tastefully. The next step is to see how that can translate into action, so Dreamforce can continue to be a catalyst in an industry looking to change and improve its track record on inclusion.
Immediately following a panel discussion by the “PayPal Mafia,” I found myself at an intersection beside one of the panelists and his handlers. “How’d I do with the women question?” he asked. “I didn’t want to pull a Satya.”