On diversity

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Diversity in high tech is a hot topic these days.  Well known bloggers like Vivek Wadhwa, Brad Feld, Eric Ries and the guys at Venture Hype have been trying to advance the case for women in technology.

As a woman in a male dominated industry, I find it both funny and depressing to watch these powerful men speak up for the women.  I only wish an equally powerful woman could have told our side of the story!

Gender issues aside, Eric made many great points about why diversity matters.  Here is a quote that I particularly like.

One of the most pernicious effects of groupthink is the sense of entitlement it breeds. Teams that are complacent are less likely to challenge their own assumptions, less likely to listen to feedback and, therefore, less likely to learn.

This is absolutely true.  I see this phenomenon everywhere.  Teams that are all the same gender, or race, or age, or economic circumstances, all tend to think alike.   Since they are all so alike, they project themselves on everyone else and remake the world in their image.  It’s a lot harder for teams like that to understand what it’s like to be someone else. This hurts when they are designing products and services for someone else.

A little diversity goes a long way in shaking up this complacency.   It makes people uncomfortable.  It rocks the boat.  It makes people think and wonder.  It makes it a little easier for folks to realize: People are Different.  And that’s the beginning of the end of arrogance.

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2 Responses to “On diversity”


  1. 1 Caroline Simard March 8, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Great post Elaine – your observations are backed by research showing that better decisions and greater innovation are reached by groups that are diverse. Groupthink is definitely the enemy of innovation. I hope our paths will cross in the future – our work at the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology is to provide visibility to these issues and to the amazing women who are trailblazers in technical roles. Caroline

  2. 2 Elaine Chen March 8, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Thanks Caroline! I agree that we all innovate better if we mix things up from a team demographic/psychographic standpoint. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, so I often invite people outside the core team for review meetings or brainstorming sessions in order to inject alternative points of views, and it definitely helps keep us honest 🙂
    Elaine


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