The Importance of Diversity in Tech

Holly Oegema is a student in Software Engineering studying at the University of Waterloo. Currently she is working on the 360Insights development team as an intern.

Profile photo of Holly Oegema

The earliest airbags that graced the automobiles of the American auto-industry ended up contradicting their purpose of saving lives when they wound up killing many women and children. The reason? The all-male teams of engineers that worked on the devices had failed to account for the smaller frames of over half of the population.

It’s apparent that problems can easily arise when something needs to be developed for an entire population, but only a small segment of that population is put in charge of addressing that issue.

Despite the fact that most university graduates are women, the tech industry is still statistically a primarily white and Asian male-dominated field. In the 1980’s, it was estimated that women accounted for 37% of computer science. Since then the number has not gone up, in fact, it has dropped to 18%. Outside of universities, 26% of the computing industry is occupied by women and as you climb the corporate ladder, that number drops to 5%.

With an estimated 1.4 million jobs in computer science by the year 2020, it is alarming to note that only enough qualified graduates will exist to fill 29% of those, in which 3% of those will be women.

Earlier this month, 360insights placed eighth on the ‘Best Places To Work for Women,’ list, for the second year in a row. We also launched #WomenInTech, which recognizes a bunch of amazing women working in the tech industry. In fact, 360insights is a rarity in the tech industry, given that women account for 54% of the company.

Polyculture - biodiversity makes for a healthier garden, a diverse team makes a better tech companyIn the world of gardening, a monoculture (one type of plant growing in an area), is more prone to pests and diseases than a polyculture (multiple types of plants growing in an area). In the gardening world there is strength in biodiversity; a diverse garden is stronger and the principle holds equally true for the tech industry. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you have a more diverse team, you get more diverse ideas. It should come as no surprise that diverse companies perform better.

These aren’t false claims either, a study conducted by the National Centre for Women And Information Technology (NCWIT) that analyzed 2360 global companies found that those that had women on their executive boards performed significantly better than companies that had all male executive boards. In fact, companies that had a greater gender balance tended to perform better financially.

Another examination of 500 US businesses, found that teams that had more racial and gender diversity tended to have a higher sales revenue, more customers, greater market shares and profits than in less diverse companies.

In the tech industry, where innovation is the key to survival, diversity can play a vital role since there is more likely to be innovative change from diverse knowledge bases versus homogeneous ones. The easiest way to get a diverse knowledge base is by having a diverse group of people.

Just like it is in gardening: the richer the garden, the more you get you get out of it.