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Moving the Needle on Diversity in Tech: What More Needs To Be Done?

 

Stephanie Lampkin, Founder and CEO of Blendoor, is taking steps to increase diversity in tech.

In 2015, African American leaders came to Silicon Valley to demand that tech companies hire more black people after figures showed that a mere 2% of the tech workforce at companies like Google and Yahoo are black. That same year, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich pledged to spend more than $300 million to diversify talent in the tech industry, and invest $125 million in companies run by women and underrepresented minorities. Two years into this heroic diversity push, and the numbers of women and underrepresented minorities in tech have not budged.

In this interview, we talk to Stephanie Lampkin, Founder and CEO of Blendoor, an app that aims to take bias out of the recruiting process. Lampkin graduated from Stanford University with an engineering degree and received an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Business. When she started interviewing for a job in tech, she was told by recruiters that she wasn’t “technical enough” and should look for a job in marketing or sales instead. Here, Lampkin discusses why diversity numbers in the tech industry are not moving, and what her company is doing to help solve the problem.

There’s been a big push in Silicon Valley over the past few years to create more diverse workplaces through greater Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) efforts, but the number of women and underrepresented minorities in tech is not budging. Why is this?
Stephanie Lampkin: I only see evidence of it diversity efforts working where there is true buy-in and prioritization from the C-Suite.  Without that buy-in, middle management will stifle any real opportunities for improvement if they aren’t properly incentivized. Hiring and rewarding talented people equally important, if not more important, than a company’s investment in new technologies, and it has to be regarded as such. Why? Because there are talented people who can solve these problems who aren’t even able to get in the game, or who get there and aren’t treated well. Change will happen when we invest as much in education, the STEM pipeline and human resource management as we do in R&D.

What is Blendoor doing to move the needle on diversity? 
SL: Our big-picture vision at Blendoor is “Inclusive People Analytics.” As we’ve seen with yet another reported case of discrimination on AirBnB, it’s clear we have a problem with how identity (gender, race, age, height, weight, ability, nationality) can limit opportunities for people on various technology platforms. The Internet, which is supposed to be the “great equalizer,” is perpetuating the same social limitations (bias, racism, sexism, xenophobia) that happen in real life. Whether it’s hiring, compensating, finding an AirAnB, getting an Uber, or crowdfunding on Angelist, my goal is to create technology that removes bias that leads to poor decision-making and replace it with technology that helps establish an individual’s credibility, trustworthiness and qualifications in a proven and consistently reliable way. We want to match candidates based on merit, not molds.

How will your new tool, BlendScore, raise transparency about how companies are doing in their diversity efforts? 
SL:Tech companies in the U.S. have been publishing their workforce diversity statistics for almost 3 years now, and the numbers are relatively unchanged. Many of these companies are hoping to create change by hiring a chief diversity officer or giving money to nonprofits, but they are notl putting underrepresented people in positions of real power and influence. I believe that behavioral change and  prioritization will happen through data, transparency, and accountability. We’re ready to peel back the onion. BlendScore will be for companies what the U.S. News World Report is for colleges & universities or the LEED certification is for buildings, which rates how “green” and sustainable they are. BlendScore rates companies on bias, diversity and inclusion.

What are you doing to help companies recognize unconscious bias?
SL: BlendScore is a public-facing rating of a company’s transparency and effort to drive equity, diversity and inclusion. BBI, on the other hand, is a company’s private “unconscious bias credit score” where they can see where and how bias is interfering with sound business practices and how they measure up against similar companies. BBI offers benchmarks and analytics that help management see the “blindspots” that human bias creates.  The BBI score itself does not factor into a company’s BlendScore.

What is your reaction to Susan Fowler’s recent allegations of sexual harassment during her year as a software engineer at Uber?
em>SL:I think it was a bold move and much needed, and I believe there will be more stories like this to come.  We are drawing closer to an era where it will be expected that tech companies are transparent and accountable in how they treat people.

How has the fundraising been going?
SL: In the past 12 months, we’ve raised $120,000 from Elevate VC and angel investors, bringing our grand investment total to $155,000. Fundraising has been by far the hardest and least meritocratic process I’ve ever gone through. My advice: if you’re not going anywhere after 6 months and you can afford to, find another way. I am now turning down meetings from top VCs because it’s a waste of our time. We are looking towards crowdfunding, foundations, and social impact focused funds.

It’s Time to Launch! Geek Girl Rising to hit the shelves in May

We’ve made our final fact checking calls. Pored over pages and pages of proofs. Turned in the final edits. And now it’s go time for Geek Girl Rising. It’s been two years since we actually sat down and wrote up the book proposal (essentially the architecture of the book); edited and re-edited it; sat on pins and needles as we received disappointing rejections and then our hearts soared when we received multiple offers; accepted our book deal from a top NYC publisher – St. Martin’s Press; embarked on the journey of filling in all of the details laid out in our book proposal outline; tracked and trailed Geek Girls all over the country and the world from San Francisco to Boston to PIttsburgh to Atlanta to Los Angeles to London and on and on; sat for hours on end in the library and at the kitchen counter on nights and weekends pulling all of those hundreds of interview transcripts together into an entertaining narrative; edited and re-edited; and now, here we are.

We could not be more excited about the months ahead.  Publication date is May 23, 2017.  The experience of holding a finished advance review copy in our hands, seeing the font the publisher chose along with the layout and the beautiful cover was a feeling like none other.

We have been blown away by the early response. We have immense gratitude for the super women who contributed such beautiful praise. Thank you Arianna Huffington and Joanna Coles!  We’ve been honored to speak at Tech Inclusion, Women of New York and a private reading in the Hearst Tower.  Up next, our book talk at SXSW on Monday, March 13th. The fun is just beginning and we are so excited for the journey ahead.  Please let us know if you would like us to visit your company or hometown bookstore.

Thank you for all of your support. Onward and upward, Geek Girls.

#Women In Tech: Think Like A VC

December 2, 2015

The prospect of getting in on the ground floor of the next “unicorn” may seem enticing to anyone, especially women with sophisticated technical skills in hot demand today. Start-ups are now the primary source of net job creation in the US, according to 2015 Start-Up Index report by the Ewing Marion Kaufmann Foundation. But the high stakes world of working inside an early stage venture requires nerves of steel since most start-ups fizzle out. That’s why Mary Holstege, Principal Engineer at MarkLogic, an enterprise database company, says women in tech should try to “control their destiny” by evaluating a start-up opportunity the same way hard-nosed venture capitalists assess a deal.

Holstege, who holds a PhD from Stanford in computer science and has worked at all kinds of start-ups from the proverbial two folks in a garage to “splashy and crashy” IPO’s, shared her advice with hundreds of women this fall in Houston at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the largest gathering of female technologists in the world, where tech firms were on the hunt for new talent among the 12,000 attendees. As an angel investor myself, I thought her advice was spot on as she shared the types of questions investors use to assess a business that could help prospective employee make a more thoughtful and informed decision on an offer.

1. Can The Founders Execute?
Ask yourself, do you understand how this business makes money? If you don’t, ask the founders how the business generates revenue. For example, Holstege says, “users” do not mean “paying customers.” You should understand the difference and what it means to YOUR bottom line. And listen to your gut instincts about the founders. Do you like them? Do you believe in what they are doing? Do some research on them. Ask around. Do they have expertise in the space? If not, who are their advisers or other hires that will help them reach success?

2. How Much Runway Do They Have?
This is a delicate question to ask directly but doing some homework on the financial resources of the company is a smart thing to do if you want a paycheck for long. Look up the business up on CrunchBase to see how much they have raised so far, when and from whom. A potential investor wants to know how much “runway” the company has right now or how much cash they have on hand and also the monthly “burn rate:” how much money are “burning through” on salaries, customer acquisition, marketing and PR, etc? These are things that will all affect you as a new employee. And a key question to ask: When are they raising financing again?

Geek Girl Rising recently spoke with Maren Kate Donovan, the founder of Zirtual, a business forced to lay off all 450 employees in August 2015 when they ran out of cash and couldn’t make payroll. Donovan recently shared with the 2X Conference at the NYC tech incubator Grand Central Tech last month that by the time she realized the finances were in trouble, it was too late. She told the crowd of more than 200 female founders that if she had to do it all over again, she would have hired a CFO much earlier on instead of handling the books herself. Hers is a cautionary tale for both founders and prospective employees. More on our candid interview in a future blog post to come…

3. Financial Risk and Reward?
When investors size up a deal, they look at a variety of metrics to calculate the potential return and you should, too. Holstege says prospective hires should ask, how much of the pay will be based on current earnings? Will you receive stock options? How many shares are outstanding? What was the valuation when those initial shares were issued? “Do the math,” she entreated the crowd. You probably won’t be paid much in the beginning. Will the investment pay off later in your career? There may be upside even if the venture fails. Ruthe Farmer, Chief Strategy and Growth Officer for the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) says having start-up experience on a resume, even being part of a failed start-up can be very helpful for young women, especially those who would like to be entrepreneurs later in life and plan on raising capital.

4. Is It A Culture Fit for You?
Finally, Holstege told the packed convention hall, look around and really consider, “Is this the right environment for you?” Make no mistake, working at start-up is all in. “A small company can’t afford anyone who isn’t contributing,” she said, “You will be doing great things. You will be doing everything.” Bottom line: Make sure it’s a place to you want to invest your valuable time and energy.

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