September 23, 2019

How (not) to talk about diversity in tech

You're a company committed to diversity? Great! But are you making these common mistakes?

Serena Chana

6 min read

Diversity in tech is everyone’s not-so-new obsession. 

Over the past few years, there has been a wave of tech startups and publications promoting diversity-focused marketing campaigns which are either failing embarrassingly or falling down the ‘good-intentions, bad-execution’ hole. Recently, GQ featured an image where two women had been photoshopped into a group of well-known tech leaders, to make it appear more diverse. 

If you’re a company that genuinely is committed to diversity, you have a responsibility to get this right. Good intentions are not enough. A ‘tick-box’ marketing strategy will not only lose you customers, but may feed into a narrative and strengthen stereotypes which have created a white male-dominated tech industry. 

Today’s consumers are smart and socially conscious and can tell if you’re fobbing them off with some faux-diversity content, especially as it seems like every company is now trying to be a brand with purpose. Consumers want real, transparent messaging — this is why startups such as Monzo are thriving. In its latest report, Monzo clearly states it has a diversity problem and explains how it’s improving this.


Here are five ways to improve how you talk about diversity:

1. Stop writing the same negative, boring stories

A lot of articles about minorities working in tech are often uninspiring, pessimistic and boring. For example, the majority of women in tech articles I read are structured like this:

Beginning: Statistics about how few women actually work in tech.
Middle: Case studies of women’s negative experiences in tech.
End: Pondering thought on all the inequality or more gloom and doom stats.

*Longest sigh ever*.

The 23 Code Street podcast has women who work in tech talking about tech, not being women.

Sharing people’s experiences is important and being a woman or any minority in tech is hard — this shouldn’t be sugarcoated. However, most people know tech has a huge diversity problem (although they might not understand all of its nuances).

Ask a woman to write a technical piece, rather than about her experience of being a 'woman in tech'

There are other narratives to share! Why not focus on organisations which are tackling this problem? Or ask a woman to write a technical piece, rather than about her experience of being a “woman in tech”? By changing the narrative, you’re normalising seeing all types of people in tech.

2. Share diverse and representative content from diverse publications

Anyone who is responsible for managing social media or a content calendar knows that you always have to be on the hunt for new and interesting content to share. However, have you ever thought about the diversity of the content you’re sharing? 

Most tech articles share the “default stories” — the stories about founders (mainly male) from the western world. By only sharing these articles you’re excluding some brilliant stories, like Africa’s booming tech scene or the rise of female entrepreneurs in India. You’re also not representing all the people who work in tech besides those who look, sound or act like Mark Zuckerberg.  

Amaliah, a media company centred on the voices of Muslim women.

Here is a list of resources you can share representative content from: Blavity, Amaliah, Feminism in India, Ada’s list, Femstreet, Gal-dem, People of Colour in Tech, 23 Code Street, Women who code, Quartz, Women 2.0, Foundervine, YSYS.

3. Never justify why minorities should be included in tech

Most diversity or minority focused articles include statistics highlighting how diversity is good for business, i.e. a more diverse team equals a better financial outcome. However, many blogs use this research as justification of why minorities should be included.

See this article from Forbes: “Why Tech Companies Should Include Women”

Or this from Daily Dot: “McKinsey’s newest report shows just how good diversity is for business”

All these articles are missing an obvious point — everyone has an equal right to work wherever they want. Minorities don’t need to prove through research that they are worthy or beneficial enough to work somewhere. Where’s all the research showing how effective white men are? There isn’t any — because in tech white men are the default. You can highlight how diversity is improving your business but don’t use this as the reason for hiring diverse team members. Fearless Futures has written an excellent blog about this

4. Don’t box in people of colour and ask stereotypical questions

How many times have you gone to a tech event and seen a panel of diverse founders speaking about being diverse founders? 


When you run an event or conference obviously you should have diverse candidates, but don’t always ask them to speak about “being diverse” or diversity in general.  

When you see a minority speak at a tech conference, it shouldn't always be about them being a minority.

How about having a woman of colour on a panel speaking about how they set their OKRs, secured their funding or manage a remote team? When you see a minority speak at a tech conference, it shouldn't always be about them being a minority. Let minorities speak about whatever they want to. 

Don’t ask questions which are based on stereotypes.

Imagine you’re watching a panel with an Indian female CEO and the moderator asks if her family were supportive of her being a working mother? This question stems from the stereotype that Indian women traditionally are housewives and primary caregivers. Would a white man be asked this? Absolutely not.

Be vigilant: get your questions checked by a diverse group of people before you ask them. 

5. Be a genuinely diverse company

So you’ve finally nailed your diversity campaign and got some brilliant feedback. However, a shiny diversity campaign won’t do much if you as a company are not diverse. 

You’re a feminist tech company but you don’t offer flexible working or have a parent’s room?

You’re a diverse tech company but only have two people of colour on your whole team?

This doesn’t match what you’re promoting. Show customers you genuinely care through how your company operates and its initiatives. For example the dating app Bumble not only has a feminist, female-led brand, but is running several initiatives that are supporting women. From its female film force scheme which gives grants to aspiring female filmmakers to its campaign to make inappropriate photos a punishable crime.

Credit: Bumble

UK startup Bulb, meanwhile, not only supplies 100% renewable energy, but donates a percentage of its profits to edible playgrounds around the UK and is launching new apprenticeships and internships to hire diverse talent.  

Always be diverse from the bottom up.