The Lack of Diversity in the Technology Industry

Every once in a while this issue flares up, usually in relation to conferences not having anything other than a bunch of white guys on the speaker agenda, but I think we should stop fooling ourselves about the technology industry valuing diversity and on there being a system of meritocracy for achieving it.

Women, Hispanics, blacks, and people with disabilities are all conspicuously absent at events and on company payrolls. We have deluded ourselves into a false sense of security about the fact that because tech centers like Silicon Valley, Boulder, and Boston are themselves centers for cultural diversity, that our industry is diversified as a result. Not true.

Why does this matter, especially coming from someone like me who has a gag reflex about the words “affirmative action” and repulsion at the idea that we, as a society, condone hiring or admittance, and promotion based on anything other than merit? It matters because we are not an economy that searches out natural resources like iron ore, timber, coal or natural ports and waterways to determine where we expand; we are an economy that depends upon businesses identifying clusters of talented human resources to solve problems that have economic value. If our solution is that a bunch of white men, young and middle aged predominately, are going to solve the bulk of problems from here on out, then we will neither be very good at it on a global scale nor efficient as a society in lifting earning power and real economic growth across the board.

Before reflexively commenting that every company has Indian and/or Asian engineers, as your proxy for diversity, just think about this for a moment. When was the last time you saw someone in a wheelchair or with a vision disability working in your office, or someone who is black or the last time you met someone at your company event who was there with their gay partner? Can you name more than 10 female executives at big tech companies or the last time you met someone who is older than 55 at a conference?

I’ve been in this business for a long time and can say without fear of hyperbole or generalization that the above are not common experiences, which makes me believe that for all of our enlightenment, those companies that we look down on, like Walmart, are actually much better at courting and sustaining a diversified workforce than the majority of tech companies, large and small.

Why (Current) Web Statistics Don’t Mean Shit

I would sum up this puff piece on the so-called new AOL as “we’re big, we’re bad, we’re AOL”.

But AOL, often derided as the original gated community, is now manufacturing a broad array of digital media that is free for the grabbing. There are 300 working content producers in its New York headquarters, backed by hundreds of other freelancers and programmers in Bangalore, Dublin and Dulles, cranking out copy and editing photos for more than 80 Web sites. Ten are ranked in Technorati’s top 100. Politics Daily, which began in April, already has 3.6 million unique users a month, while Politico, a much more established name, has 1.1 million. In the aggregate, the media properties at AOL have about 76 million unique visitors.

[From The Media Equation – AOL Builds Content as Mainstream Media Falters – NYTimes.com]

Here’s the problem for AOL, which the NYTimes apparently doesn’t see because they themselves have the same issue: it’s not how many people are hitting your URL, it’s what they do with you once they get there that matters. While community may be the most abused and mis-used word in media at the moment, engagement matters more than ever and the best brands in media know it. AOL is, for the most part, fighting the last war by focusing on unique users and pageviews. If either of those stats actually mattered anymore, well the newspaper business would be a growth industry right now.

Suggesting that your place on the Technorati Top 100 is a proof point for your success is pretty lame, just as much so as reciting your traffic stats. How about some new stats that measure how viral your content is, as in propensity to be shared directly by visitors or on other topically related sites, and depth of engagement that measures, beyond time spent, what site visitors are doing when they get there, like commenting, clicking on sponsor links, etc.?

So while AOL is trying to be Huffington Post, by bringing individual authors and brand names under one masthead, Huffington Post itself is going to personalized news in a big way with their Facebook Connect initiative. Poor AOL, always a day late and a dollar short…