OpenUp.FixIt. Is a series of public talk events aimed at uniting leaders from different areas of influence to engage in the conversation around diversity and inclusion in Pittsburgh’s community and it’s tech industry. The second edition took place Friday, June 24th at the Beauty Shoppe with Rick Cancelliere, CEO of Treatspace, Laura Dickey, Program Manager at Google and advocate for Women @ Google, Marimba Milliones, CEO of the Hill Community Development Corporation and Jen Wagner, Head of the BNY Mellon Innovation Center.
It wasn’t by accident that the four panelists came from different areas of expertise and backgrounds: becoming more inclusive and diverse is a process with diverse actors, lots of moving pieces, challenges, and perspectives.
The second edition of OpenUp.FixIt. brought together a small startup, a tech giant, a global enterprise, and the community of the Hill district to one table. It is hard to do right by all the important points that were made during this conversation with one blog post, but here are some highlights with important takeaways.
“My company is really not diverse and I think my CEO is aware to a degree but I just don’t see him take any action or even starting a conversation. What can I do?” – was the one question from the audience that now, a few days later, stands out to me the most. The question was both simple and hard. Jen Wagner from BNY Mellon was in the position of being the only woman who had a lot of experience working almost solely with white men for a long time. When she left her last job to start at the Innovation Center there were no women left on her team. In her exit interview she asked her superior: “What are you gonna do about it?” – “Sometimes you just have to be the one who brings it up”, was what she told the audience at OpenUp.FixIt.
“Word spreads. Why would a black person be interested in working for a company or an industry that has the reputation for not being inclusive and promoting a culture of conformity?” remarked Audrey Russo, President of the Pittsburgh Technology Council who was in the audience on Friday. Lack of pipeline for diverse talent is often the challenge that tech companies mention when they explain why they are not more diverse. Marimba Milliones knows this problem: “Black professionals are leaving Pittsburgh and they are not coming back, because there is no place for them in the city.” The Hill Community Development Corporation works on redeveloping the Hill District by tapping into the community, celebrating their rich culture, and keeping the history of the Hill alive. She believes that the revitalization of the Hill District will be the key to plugging the black community back into the city of Pittsburgh and attracting the diverse workforce that Pittsburgh badly needs. As far as companies go, Laura Dickey from Google rightly mentioned that there are historically black colleges in the US that graduate brilliant people in engineering, STEM fields and business. Companies need to start working on these campuses to recruit people and secure a pipeline of candidates.
Innovate or die: The most innovative teams are diverse
For Rick Cancelliere, a startup is a great place to have a diverse team: “Being a small company where investors watch closely, it is essential that I hire people who are excellent at their jobs and get things done. With a diverse team, the focus is on the product – not on culture or image.” Diversity can bring a great deal of discomfort – it can make it harder to communicate, it can make it harder to feel cohesion, but that discomfort is exactly what drives creativity and provokes thought. When people are comfortable, they feel very little desire to innovate or change. Diversity forces different perspectives. Research shows that once people anticipate a difference of perspectives and opinions in their team, they prepare much more for their meetings and go through a more complete thought process.
OpenUp.FixIt. is a series of conversations about Inclusion. More women and minorities in tech and leadership, now! Sponsored by Rhiza & The Pittsburgh Technology Council