A Night of #TechInclusion in ATX

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February 16, 2017
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A Night of #TechInclusion in ATX

“Diversity is being invited to the party, Inclusion is being asked to dance.” – Verna Myers

We were very excited to be a part of a Tech Inclusion event here in Austin. Tech Inclusion is only one part of a larger vision put out by Change Catalyst which “empowers diverse, inclusive and sustainable tech innovation – through education, mentorship and funding” . Co- Founders, Melinda Briana Epler and Wayne Sutton, were in Austin this week for the tech heavy SXSW Festival, but also hosted a Tech Inclusion event at Galvanize,
one of their sponsors for Change Catalyst, at the Galvanize Austin office. The event was a great combination of
Austin’s tech voices regarding diversity and inclusion combined with perspectives from other parts of the country.

With the biggest question and underlying theme of the night coming from Ms. Epler, “What Will We Do Differently”. Staying true to the theme of Tech Inclusion which “takes an ecosystem approach to improving diversity and inclusion in the tech industry”, the speakers were perfectly curated to give each person in the room suggestions, no matter what part of the tech ecosystem they were in, and evaluate how they can begin to think or do things differently. Kicking it off with an introduction by Bill Blackstone of Galvanize and City Council Jimmy Flannigan, the first openly gay council member in Austin. He made his plea simple, “In order for government to do its job, tech has to be responsible for creating a more diverse and inclusive space”. 

The first lighting talk,  by Gina Helfrich of NumFOCUS, briefly discussed the current state of diversity in Austin. She identified organizations and companies with focuses on diversity in and around Austin. The highlight of her talk were the action steps she believed need to happen in order to improve diversity in Austin:

  1. More funding for diverse entrepreneurs
  2. Supporting of other forms of diversity beyond white women
  3. Greater transparency from Austin tech companies on their diversity efforts (specifically what are they doing if they are doing anything)
  4. More entry-level pathways to support code school graduates and career changers

This was followed by another lighting talk, by  Preston L. James II of DivInc, talking about unleashing the value of inclusive entrepreneurship.  He unloaded several statistics that help draw the picture of the need to create scale-able businesses where entrepreneurs think big and employ people to increase revenue. Several slides highlighted how women of color and women in general are building businesses and revenue but have a small percentage of staff. If these entrepreneurs could increase their workforce, this would cause their revenue trajectory to increase significantly based on the data.

The last part to the event was a panel that was full of diversity with the following speakers:

Sara Inés Calderón from Women Who from Code – Austin, Charlie Jackson from Diversity Fund, Erin Horne McKinney from #BFF and KissIntel , Johnathan Wojtewicz from Bunker Labs Austin, and Willie King from Communication Service of the Deaf, with Melinda Briana Epler moderating. This panel’s background covered the spectrum of race, gender, LGBTQ, disability, veterans and career changers.

There were a number of highlights, and we couldn’t take notes fast enough. But there were a few important takeaways:

When asked, “What does an inclusive tech ecosystem look like?” panelist responded with:

  • Funding available to generate business
  • People are intentionally inclusive as if it was second nature
  • Improved technologies that can assist diverse communities.

Let’s stop for a moment right there, because the last point was from Willie King, who is deaf and communicated through an interpreter.  He works as the Chief Technology Officer at the Communication Service for the Deaf and he shared a pretty compelling story about how the app Uber forever changed his experience when traveling and using local transportation. He discussed the struggles of hailing a cab as a deaf person and the benefits of Uber, albeit unintentionally, made it easier to get transportation when visiting different cities. This highlighted that fact if we had more of an inclusive tech ecosystem we would create more technologies to improve the lives of diverse communities, because we would want to find solutions for them, but more importantly, they would be at the table bringing forth those ideas.  Or a simpler way to explain as one of the panelist shared, “having diverse coders/developers will help solve problems in new and unique ways”.



Another important question that was asked, “The tech ecosystem will be inclusive when”:

  • We have more mentors and more pathways
  • The skills gap is gone and the focus is beyond hard skills
  • When “women in code” is passé
  • When all the levels in companies are diverse

Erin Horne McKinney also highlighted that they are different challenges for diverse groups such as child care or location not being “comfortable” to a certain group. But her most inspiring point in the talk was her highlighting the decision to become an advocate for diverse persons in Tech. She matter-of-factly stated, that she gave up her dreams and ideas, because there was a need to talk to people in tech spaces and “kept it 100” (a.k.a be honest) about the lack of diversity in tech. What an impressive plea to the group. Although she wasn’t suggesting everyone in the room needed to do the exact same thing, she was sharing the idea of being unafraid to challenge the status quo and in order to speak up where we see diversity and inclusion not happening in tech specifically. And that’s what the night really brought to the table. Full of people who are advocating for a more diverse and inclusive tech ecosystem, and challenging the room to not sit and wait for it to happen, but to go after it.  What a Night.


Also published on Medium.