New #HackDiversity documentary wants the tech sector to start taking inclusivity seriously
Lack of diversity in the technology industry isn’t a new problem, but one Toronto-based startup is using the power of video to make the case that it needs to change.
On Monday, StackAdapt — a 60-plus person company that specializes in advertising platforms — released a self-made, 18-minute documentary called #HackDiversity, which speaks with technology leaders about why hiring people of different ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations makes sense.
“Sometimes it is easy to presume that because we live in a city (Toronto) that is so multicultural that, by de facto, means we have inclusion,” said Jaime Woo, head of engineering communications at Shopify, and a subject of the documentary. “I would say we need to think about that a little bit more.”
There were 71,000 tech sector firms across the country with 864,000 employees as of the end of 2015, according to a study last year by Brookfield Institute. And though there isn’t much data on diversity in Canada’s tech sector, a recent study of 1,400 U.S. workers by software company Atlassian said only 2 per cent of the industry is black and three per cent is latino.
Meanwhile a study by the Harvard Business Review showed that firms with a diverse set of leaders are 45 per cent more likely to report market share growth and 70 per cent more likely to secure a new market. In addition, work force participation by women in IT-related positions is around 25 per cent, according to reports by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and professional services firm Deloitte.
“Everyone is afraid that if we get too caught up in the tech cycle and we are not creating opportunity for all, there will be lots of groups that get left behind and we are going to build the kind of society or city that doesn’t feel inclusive,” said Salim Teja, executive vice president of ventures at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District. He immigrated to Canada with his family from South Africa when he was a child and was also featured in the documentary.
“We are really trying to take advantage of different perspectives, backgrounds and types of people (in Toronto). It’s a strength of the city we want to showcase,” he said.
In MaRS’ latest survey of its portfolio of 1,000 startups, about 30 per cent of companies had at least one female founder and more than 50 per cent companies have at least one foreign founder.
“(The female founder statistic) was probably above average relative to the broad industry,” said Teja. “It’s something we have been focusing in on and want to grow.”
It’s not just about looking at statistics to those involved with the #HackDiversity documentary, but creating an immediate call for action against the ongoing unconscious bias in the sector. For Woo, who is part of the LGBT community, it is also about learning from and working with more people in tech who are representing different backgrounds when decisions are being made.
“I feel like I’m learning better because I’m surrounded by people from different experiences,” Woo said. “It’s really refreshing to be around diversity so you can hear different points of view and get better ideas from it.”
One way for a company to make changes surrounding diversity and inclusion is to take an internal survey of employees, said Vitaly Pecherskiy, chief operating officer of StackAdapt and the driving force behind the documentary. He was born and raised in Russia and immigrated to Canada 12 years ago.
“Just checking the pulse of a company’s wide alignment on these topics (is important),” he said. “Alongside this project, for the first time we ran a diversity report ourselves internally because we were curious ourselves about whether we were a diverse team and do people feel we are a diverse company.”
MaRS’ Teja agreed that starting a conversation internally and getting a sense for how important it is to the organization is a great place to start.
“In a lot of companies, sometimes the leaders will be out there speaking on these things but it’s important to get a pulse check,” he said.
“Are there certain initiatives that can be prioritized? Maybe the organization as a whole can stand behind a couple of initiatives to do as a group in order to grow their exposure to different types of members of society and also get different types of people into their talent and research pools.”
#HackDiversity can be viewed online for free at StackAdapt.com.