Why men should support gender diversity in tech

Why men should support gender diversity in tech

09 December 2020 | Dan Pitt

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Dan Pitt

Blog Author | former SVP, MEF and president, Palo Alto Innovation Advisors

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Gender diversity in tech will consistently fall short of our goals unless men do (more than) their share. Industry luminary Dan Pitt, knows what they need to do.

The term gender diversity infiltrated my consciousness years after I, unconsciously, began promoting it. I come from a family of strong women: my mother, her mother, and many great aunts. Their strengths were the right ones: skill, character and perseverance. I was also small for my age until I reached high school (and neurotic much longer than that) so I could never rely on physical strength, intimidation, or even confidence to get ahead.

I pursued a career in tech because I loved the subject and it exercised my intellect, which was really all I had to work with. But I gradually noticed the dearth of women in my classes and my company’s offices. I noticed who advanced in my profession and how, and I witnessed enough politics, swagger, and destructive competition by men to disturb me. Moreover, too many men worshipped the technology but ignored what you could do with it. So, I found myself drawn to the rare woman colleague or leader for the characteristics I most missed and I took to encouraging the promising younger ones as well, beginning when I was teaching CS and EE. I was also fortunate in my early career to report to two women managers.

When I served as a dean of engineering, I found concrete opportunities to recruit and retain women students and faculty. We had a small but enthusiastic student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and I challenged the chapter to help me recruit women students. I told them that if they would do so I would join SWE myself. This I did, and now almost 20 years later I am still an enthusiastic member of SWE. We also developed startup packages for new women faculty that included funding for daycare during the summer. During my tenure we rose to number one in the US in percentage of tenure-track women faculty in engineering.

I will never forget the first time I attended the SWE national convention. Everyone stared at me, wondering what I was doing there. I realised that this is how women in tech feel every day, in their classes and their workplaces. I became active both locally and nationally, and almost the exact same thing happened with the National Society of Black Engineers, of which I am still proud to be a member. I really stand out at their conventions, too.

In the tech world, I have noticed when women are absent from technical committees and leadership positions, and I react in two ways when I do. First, I point out the absence to the men who have failed to notice. Second, I look for specific women (or minority) candidates who could fill these positions and I suggest it to them, encourage and mentor them, and nominate them. In every instance both the work product and the work process of the body in question improved with the addition of women to the leadership ranks. One other helpful behaviour for men: in any gathering where there is no-one officially designated to take notes, volunteer to do so yourself before anyone has a chance to suggest that the lone woman in the group be the secretary, which sadly happens a lot. In one of my organisations we had a cadre of men watching out for this phenomenon, ready to pick up the pen.

My most gratifying service in the advancement of gender diversity in tech, centres on the Global Women in Telecom and Tech (GWTT) initiative — where I have helped guide, and served as a judge for, the GWTT awards — and on the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (AnitaB.org), especially at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

For 10 years I have chaired the selection committee for the Technical Leadership Award, the highest honour conferred by AnitaB.org, and I attend Grace Hopper to introduce the winner when she gives her lecture or we hold a fireside chat. Talk about standing out: in 2019, the last time Grace Hopper was held in person, the 26,000 attendees were nearly all women. Many are cheering. I am cheering for them. And I don’t mind their staring at me wondering what I am doing there. I am happy to explain my role in the award selection, and that I am there to learn. I explain that we cannot design great products and services for the whole population if only half the population participates in the design. Gender diversity does not happen by itself, and we men can, and must, lend our minds, hearts, and bodies to its pursuit.