Recently, philanthropist Melinda Gates pledged $50 million towards "inclusive tech hubs" though Pivotal Venture's “Gender Equality in Tech Cities” initiative. The initiative seeks to increase the power and influence of women in tech through greater education and hiring, and the UIC College of Engineering received an initial grant towards their computer science program in an effort to eliminate gender disparities in the tech field. In a city where there are numerous efforts in Chicago to drive inclusion and diversity in technology, provide software development training for young women curious about technology, foster professional networking for women in tech, and increase awareness around diversity and inclusion issues (with an upcoming performance for International Rescue on February 14th), we wanted to explore the implications for Chicago's tech community.
We recently spoke with two representatives from SPR, a Chicago-based firm that has consulted with business around technology needs for almost fifty years. We spoke with Executive Director Litha Ramirez, who leads their Experience Strategy and Design Group, as well as Chief Technology Officer Matt Mead, who spearheads company efforts like SPR's Women's Q & A series for the company and its partners and the Women in Chicago Tech Happy Hours. Both of them agree that Melinda Gates' initial effort is a great start towards not only fostering more women in tech but also fostering a greater sense of diversity and inclusion.
A quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind: "None of us are free until we are all free".
Although this investment is a great move to improve the number of women in tech, neither Litha nor Matt believe that this is a cure-all. With two other potential candidate cities to receive funding, Melinda Gates'/Pivotal Ventures' effort should serve as a motivation towards engagement than a "one-shot" remedy to address gender disparities in the tech field. (With other, smaller organizations working towards driving gender and other inclusion into the tech field, Litha remarked that Chicago has multiple resources and that this funding is like an additional "one inch of icing on the cake".) Matt described Melinda Gates'/Pivotal Ventures' action as a "public proclamation", engaging and mobilizing some organizations towards action and placing pressure on other local organizations to increase their involvement and potential funding. Either way, Melinda Gates'/Pivotal Ventures' announcement of fostering inclusive tech hubs and greater percentages of women in tech fosters greater attention towards the issue and potentially greater funding and action/activism in Chicago.
Although women comprise slightly more than 30% of tech startup founders, they also have a much higher dropout rate for women in tech than their male counterparts. However, part of this can be alleviated through policy and workplace programs for working mothers and family leave. However, this initiative provides a great opportunity to engage the latest generation of women in the tech field. Setting up
Both Litha and Matt remarked that Chicago has the largest tech scene (and the biggest market) outside of both coasts. With its relatively subdued presence and minimal hype, Chicago is primed to foster more successful startups with greater opportunities for growth and a better sense of balance. (In other words, "the clay hasn't been put into the kiln"). Chicago also has a more geographically and racially diverse city, with communities that are "hungry" for learning, services, and greater grassroots engagement. The overall idea is that building opportunities to drive collaboration and cooperation can be empowering to many professionals (not just women in tech), and provide stronger teams and more effective solutions.
But the Melinda Gates/Pivotal Ventures initiative to foster women in tech should not be seen as the sole solution but as a critical first step. Just like Netsquared Chicago started a conversation that continues and flourishes around technology for nonprofits (and full disclosure - I am a former Netsquared organizer), this action should be seen as a rallying cry for both the Chicago tech scene and the greater public. Both Litha Ramirez and Matt Mead of SPR emphasized that the Melinda Gates/Pivotal Ventures initiative should serve to kickstart a mix of the right investments to make fostering programs that foster diversity and inclusion both sustainable and profitable.
And fostering the inclusion of women in tech is a key start.
As always, thanks for reading!