Diversity in the IT industry

The year was 1845. In Ireland. The famine had struck out of nowhere. The economical factors that had led to almost absolute dependency, of the back then Irish food industry, on a potato was one of the key factors.

Genetics also does not really favor lack of diversity. From the times of ancient Rome and it’s crazy early Imperators, to the recent discoveries of modern science. We also have examples of large-scale ‘government improvement programs’ attempted by the Soviet Union to concentrate industry on one thing. Be it agricultural collectivization or the push to produce cotton. The last one contributed greatly to the Aral Sea shrinking.

One starts to wonder if concentrating on just one thing can really be beneficial?

We must not only learn to tolerate our differences. We must welcome them as the richness and diversity which can lead to true intelligence.

Albert Einstein

I have been researching the topic on diversity in IT industry for a while now. Being a white caucasian male myself, I never thought it to be a problem. You can just get used to it so easily. One look at Bill Gates, then at Steve Jobs, even today Elon Musk. Bah – even Linus Torvalds. Wherever you look, there is only one way of thinking and only one image the IT industry is built around.

Things just seemed so normal back at my university, where we only had a few women studying with us in the technical field of study. Same in the office. To add, countries with rapidly developing IT skill sets like India, Singapore, China and Brazil were seen like more of a low-quality workforce providers. I am still wondering why we never asked ourselves questions then, when most of our processors were coming from Taiwan and TV’s, videos, consoles were coming from Japan. For some reason, in my period of not noticing a diversity problem, I have not wondered.

The progress of high-level programming languages in the Western world has created a lot of dependency on the meta-program, that a good programmer is a white caucasian male. It have even led to a movie on Apollo 13 mission being completely white-washed of their key programmers (whose were black, American women).

Progress has never been a bargain. You’ve got to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man behind a counter who says, ‘All right, you can have a telephone; but you’ll have to give up privacy, the charm of distance. You may conquer the air; but the birds will lose their wonder, and the clouds will smell of gasoline!’

Jerome Lawrence, Inherit the Wind

I have started recognizing the diversity issues, when I got closer to hiring and when my wife started to look for a job, after a longer period of maternal leave. I got to manage people from other cultures, countries, older than average and of different sexual orientation. I learned one thing. Despite my previous moaning on how life is tough for me, I knew nothing. What I also learned is I was closing myself to a variety of perspectives in the past.

One function of diversity for me, became then attempting to even out the odds. It is movies like Daughters of Destiny that brought me closer to the topic. As well as joining the right workplaces.

We know intuitively that diversity matters. It’s also increasingly clear that it makes sense in purely business terms. Our latest research finds that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Companies in the bottom quartile in these dimensions are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns. And diversity is probably a competitive differentiator that shifts market share toward more diverse companies over time.

Diversity Matters https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/business%20functions/organization/our%20insights/why%20diversity%20matters/diversity%20matters.pdf

I started looking at the diversity from a different perspective. A very personal perspective. In my career I’ve been involved in situations, which could be generally called as anti-diversity. The one common theme was – a different way of thinking or a diverse perspective was being practically killed by the established status quo.

It was very much damaging.

In recent years a body of research has revealed another, more nuanced benefit of workplace diversity: nonhomogenous teams are simply smarter. Working with people who are different from you may challenge your brain to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance. Let’s dig into why diverse teams are smarter.

https://hbr.org/2016/11/why-diverse-teams-are-smarter

Now, having experienced this first-hand, I can absolutely vouch for it. Diverse teams are smarter. It is the diversity of perspectives (not all team members must be pursuers of positive thinking), diversity of cultures (depending on situation you can react in A or B way), diversity of experiences (people on your team, who understand your target audience perform better) and other types of diversity, that set you up for a success. And even more importantly, diversity opens you to learning, pushing you out of your comfort zone.

We all might be fed up by the success definition through financial success. Though this speaks to your stakeholders. While, at the same time, you just make yourself reacher as a person. You learn … including the things you’d not like to experience.

We are now trying to sell diversity as something of business value. I know it’s important, otherwise no sane company would embrace it. In this world, whether we like it or not, c-level executives main responsibility is profit and growth of profit for the firm. At the same time we live on a planet, where diversity is just natural. No ecosystem can survive without diversity.

It would be great for us to learn diversity to be a simple law of nature. Similar to the ones we know about basic needs: breathing, feeding and shelter. Just natural.

Who says that all must vanish?
Who knows, perhaps the flight
of the bird you wound remains,
and perhaps flowers survive
caresses in us, in their ground.

It isn’t the gesture that lasts,
but it dresses you again in gold
armor —from breast to knees—
and the battle was so pure
an Angel wears it after you.

Rainer Maria Rilke, What Survives

We do not necessarily know what will survive, but the will to have our work environment diverse is just natural. We should learn to embrace a broad range of different opinions. We can only achieve this by hiring men and women, people of all cultural and sexual backgrounds and all skin colours. Only by doing that, we can effectively embrace diversity. Otherwise we just expose ourselves to the drought of ideas … and a potential famine.


That’s it for today. Hopefully my article makes an emotional point on ensuring the understanding of why diversity is both natural and absolutely vital.

To sum up:

  • different perspectives help to build solutions for more than just your needs
  • diversity positively impacts financial performance of your company
  • diverse teams rock
  • don’t base your diet just on potatoes

Thank you and see you next time.

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