Workplace Culture

It’s Crunchies Time: A Diversity Award Comes to Silicon Valley

By Cavanaugh Gray

Feb. 29, 2016

Screen grab of Kimberly Bryant accepting her Include Diversity Award at this year’s Crunchies Awards. She is the founder of Black Girls Code.

Last night’s Academy Awards and Chris Rock’s biting monologue continued to shed light on an ongoing problem in Hollywood. But as the Hollywood film industry had its rude awakening about its lack of diverse nominees up for awards, a few weeks earlier a group of techies seemed to embrace diversity in a surprising way at an annual awards ceremony.

 

For nine years, TechCrunch has hosted the Crunchies Awards to honor the coolest tech launches of the year and other tech-related categories. And this year’s event in San Francisco was no different. It wasn’t a surprise to see Uber Technologies Inc. snatch Best Overall Startup honors, and with the buzz around all things virtual and the frenzy around the latest movie in the “Star Wars” franchise, it wasn’t shocking when Samsung Gear took home the Hardware of the Year award with the Sphero BB-8 Droid coming in a close second. The Argument logo

 

However, at a time when Silicon Valley companies are starting to feel the heat from some about their lack of hiring of diverse candidates, it was a pleasant surprise to see an Include Diversity category added to the mix. Even more eye-opening was that all of the candidates in the category were female.

 

And the Nominees Are?

One of the things that great startups have are founders with lots of passion, and the Include Diversity Award winner, Kimberly Bryant founder of Black Girls Code, was no exception. Her organization looks to increase the number of minority women in the digital space by empowering girls of color ages 7 to 17 to learn tech skills. The program has already reportedly reached 3,000 girls, and she hopes to reach 1 million girls across the globe by 2040.

 

And until the night of the event, I had never heard of Slack, which won in the Fastest Rising Startup category. A new messaging service created for teams, Slack was honored at the event as was one of its engineers, Erica Baker. She was nominated for the Include Diversity Award. Baker is leading a campaign to extend diversity efforts beyond gender. She started the hashtag #RealDiversityNumbers on Twitter to hold tech companies accountable for their minority hiring practices.

 

Other Include Diversity standouts included Laura Weidman Powers co-founder and CEO of Code2040, a nonprofit that creates pathways to success for Black and Latino people as well as Kortney Ryan Ziegler of Trans*H4CK, a hackathon program for transgender and gender nonconforming people, and Joelle Emerson of Paradigm, a company that works with tech firms to build strategies around diversity and inclusion in the tech world.

 

Building the Proper Infrastructure

 

The San Francisco Bay Area seems to have entrepreneurship woven into every fabric of its DNA. To truly understand the area, it is important to know what makes up the environment that has allowed minority female engineers to thrive at the highest level.

 

For starters Silicon Valley is known for its history of innovation. The area lays claim to the success of graduate students William Hewlett and David Packard (1938) who went on to form Hewlett-Packard, saw the launch of one of the first incubators at Stanford University (1953), is home to the first chip-maker Intel (1968) and is the birthplace of Apple Computers (1975).

 

Intel, for one, has made a concerted effort to hire more women and minorities. According to a Mother Jones report from last year, as of August 2015, 43 percent of the company’s hires for that year were minorities and women. That’s more than just lip service; that’s taking action.

 

San Francisco embraces its diversity in the same way a United Colors of Benetton ad takes on multiculturalism or a Coke Hilltop ad from decades ago — “I’d like to buy the world a Coke — does as well.

Silicon Valley also has more recognized incubators than any other startup community. Leading the way is the Y Combinator, which helped nurture Airbnb, Dropbox and Weebly. These incubators provide up-and-coming startups with mentors, collaboration to help improve their ideas and contacts. Recently the Y Combinator accepted its first tech diversity nonprofit. Called /dev/color, it’s a black software engineer support organization founded by former Pinterest engineer Makinde Adeagbo.

Across from the San Francisco Caltrain stop is a place called The Creamery. The restaurant serves all of the caffeinated favorites and pastries you would expect from your local coffee shop, however, it’s not your everyday café. If you take a closer look you will see that The Creamery is more than a place where folks go for good Wi-Fi, it’s actually one of the premier places fledging startups go to pitch investors on their dreams.

 

And dream they do.

 

But the bottom line is anyone can dare to dream regardless of race, gender, nationality or sexual orientation. It just takes a group of companies and hiring managers who are ready and willing to embrace that change in dreamer demographics.

 

Seeing the diversity category added to the Crunchies this year and having all of the nominees in the category be women is refreshing and a step in the right direction. But it’s just a step. Silicon Valley still has a long way to go in terms of promoting diversity in its ranks.

 

Will the Academy take note? We’ll see how next year’s Oscar nominations go. As Rock said, “It’s not about boycotting anything, it’s about opportunity.”

Let’s see if that opportunity comes to the land of the tech giants, too, where dreams can come true.

Cavanaugh L. Gray is the director of business development for The Entrepreneur Café, a business development company designed to help entrepreneurs, and author of “The Entrepreneurial Spirit Lives: 25 Tales to Help Entrepreneurs Start, Grow, and Succeed in Small Business.” Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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