The booming U.S. technology industry performs ahead of the curve in innovation, but falls behind when it comes to diversity.
High tech makes up 9 percent of all jobs in Los Angeles, more than any other metropolitan region in the country. However, 75 percent of tech jobs in LA are performed by men, and this lopsided ratio is the same across California and the rest of the United States. Women account for less than a quarter of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce.
This gender imbalance causes the technology industry to suffer.
“As a consequence of a lack of diversity, we pay an opportunity cost in designs not thought of and in solutions not produced,” says William Wulf, former president of the National Academy of Engineering. Diversity is essential for global competitiveness. McKinsey & Company notes in a report that gender-diverse companies outperform those that are not. Companies with greater gender diversity earn more revenue and market share.
Under the leadership of Mayor Eric Garcetti and First Lady Amy Elaine Wakeland, the LA Information Technology Agency has been working to bridge the gap between women and high-paying tech jobs. Last year, in the company of tech leaders such as Google, Facebook, Pinterest and Qualcomm, the municipal IT department became the first government group to publish its percentage of female programmers. Boasting a 42 percent female programming staff, the LA ITA ranked 21st out of 226 companies.
What was our secret to achieving diversity? It was easier than you might think. We reached out to local universities and women’s organizations. We supported civic hackathons and internships such as the HireLA program. We encouraged existing employees to grow their skill sets with leadership and management workshops.
But the city workforce is just a start, and we have a long way to go before we reach real diversity in the tech field. That’s why we are encouraging qualified female contractors and women-owned businesses to compete for city contracts by providing precertification through the city’s contract opportunities website, LABAVN.org. To empower women-owned startups, the mayor’s Elevate LA Project pairs female startup founders with high-level tech industry executives.
Technology exploration begins at a young age, which is why we also engage local nonprofits such as DIY Girls, Girls Who Code, Black Women in Tech, and LA HI-TECH. Mayor Garcetti even hired Los Angeles’ own 13-year-old coding phenomenon, Keila Banks, for recent social media work.
We invite all IT leaders to create their own community initiatives or join in ours. Support STEM education for young women, create opportunities for a diverse workforce, work to attract and hire qualified female candidates and foster a work environment that respects individuals and their varied talents.
As technologists, we often shape the future of our society through innovation. Now, let’s shape the future of society by building a workforce that reflects diversity and equality.