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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.

Hottest Toys of 2016: On the Ground with GoldieBlox at the Toy Fair

February 16, 2016

heather_debbie
Debbie Sterling, Founder & CEO of GoldieBlox, with Heather Cabot at the NYC Toy FairFebruary 17, 2016) We got a sneak peek at the toys that may inspire our daughters to build, code and design in the year to come on a visit to the annual North American International Toy Fair in New York City. Our insider guide was none other than Debbie Sterling, the founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, the first engineering toy for girls. It was Sterling’s fifth year visiting the trade show which showcases hundreds of thousands of toys to 7,000+ retailers from 100 countries.

We checked out the new “Invention Mansion,” the product Sterling calls the “anti-dollhouse” and the top secret project she and her team were working on all last year. The play set features more than 300 pieces that girls can reconfigure in hundreds of different ways like turning ladders into bridges and doors into platforms. And it features a “Hacker Hideaway” where the characters Goldie and Ruby and code and create.

GoldieBlox

Walking the show with Debbie was especially cool because we saw so many of the toys that have followed in the footsteps of GoldieBlox and Debbie’s Kickstarter campaign.  Back when she first came up with the idea for GoldieBlox, the tech toy section at Toy Fair was a wasteland, Sterling told us. Now she points out, nearly every booth features STEM, robots and a lot of the products are centered around girls.

“I think I knew that there was such a huge gap when I started GoldieBlox that it seemed like a no-brainer. I think we have helped validate the market,” she says with a smile.

And as the category rapidly grows, the Toy Industry Association, which sponsors the trade show, predicts STEAM toys (those that reinforce science, tech, engineering, the arts and math) will be among the top sellers next holiday season.  On our walk around the exhibit hall, we especially liked Tinkineer and its maker kits for children aged 10 and up called “Marbelocity.”  The sets introduce kids and adults to physics and engineering principles through Rube Goldberg-like machines and a graphic novella featuring the characters known as “Tinkineers.”  And if your daughter likes to make movies on her mobile device, check out Stikbots. They are action figures that mimic human movements to be used with an app that teaches kids how to make stop motion animated movies and includes a community for them to share their creations. Finally, we saw lots of female action figures with all kinds of empowering messages including I Am Elemental, a collection of heroines started by two moms in 2014. The toys promote virtues like courage and wisdom and are intended to
re-cast the traditional female action figure into a strong, smart leading role in children’s imaginary play.

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