Intersectionality is an interesting thing. It’s defined roughly as an idea used to describe ways in which oppressive institutions like racism, sexism, homophobia and classism are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.
It’s interesting, and it’s complicated. I’d venture to say the complexity of the subject matter is one key reason so little progress has been made — or has been abysmally slow — in diversity. Even for organizations making a concentrated effort to affect change, it’s tough.
Take Etsy, for instance. The tech company released its latest diversity report and proudly showed off its progress in closing the gender gap. According to a Wired article detailing the company’s numbers, “women now make up 54 percent of its workforce, up from 51 percent in 2014. What’s more, half of the leadership and management positions at Etsy belong to women, an impressive achievement, at least in the context of the tech industry’s dreary diversity record.”
However, the company is still struggling with racial and ethnic diversity. There are lots of reasons why that may be. Engineering, one of the gateway areas of study that leads to jobs in the tech industry, is not heavily populated by ethnic minorities. We often lack the primary schooling, the opportunity, the mentors, the career counselors and even the exposure — knowing what’s out there — to branch into these areas of study and into these subsequent jobs. Then, if and when we do, there’s that seemingly perennial and ridiculously pesky bias that undercuts our efforts, stops us from getting hired, or once hired from advancing into leadership positions.
I’ve talked about the perils of being a double minority. You’ve heard me say many a time, being a woman is hard enough. Being a black woman can be brutal. Add in being poor, and *whistles*. I thank my parents every day that they had the grit and the hustle to spare me that disadvantage. Others have not been so lucky, and that intersectionality between gender, ethnicity and socio-economic factors is probably one of the biggest reasons minorities are not represented in the tech industry in great numbers.
Companies like Etsy are doing something about it. That same Wired article said the company is “investing in relationships with organizations focused on improving diversity in tech, increasing its presence on campuses of historically black colleges, and expanding on other recruitment efforts.”
That’s great. But I want companies like Etsy, heck, all companies, to begin their diversity efforts sooner than the adult workforce. To combat diversity and inclusion issues, STEM issues, minority retention and advancement issues, gender leadership imbalance issues, etc., companies have to start early.
At first I thought, high school. But now I’m thinking grade school. We need companies to sponsor schools in economically depressed, racially diverse areas to help them get where they need to be academically. This is the real feeder-pipeline for industries like tech that struggle with diversity.
You gotta get ‘em early. You’ve gotta let these kids know what’s out there, that they can get there, and then show them how. That means mentors, speakers, counselors, science and math camps, aptitude assessments, tutors, sponsorships, book and technology donations, scholarships, pay-it-forward programs, praise and encouragement — I’m exhausted just typing that list. But if we’re ever going to level the playing field, if we’re ever going to evolve past this need to do more for certain groups in order to create equity, we have to start early.
We have to start almost at the beginning. That way when we get to the end — when adults enter the workforce — we’ve given ourselves a fighting chance at building an inclusive workforce capable of capitalizing on all the inherent advantages that diversity can bring.
It’s a big investment, I know. But it’s a worthwhile one.