Foster Tech Club Hosts Leadership Summit Focused on Equity

Last week, the Foster Tech Club hosted the inaugural event ‘Fostering Tomorrow’s Tech Leaders: Managing for Equity’.  An extension of the progress made this year by the Foster MBA community in furthering the conversation around racial equity and opportunity, the event brought together business leaders, local politicians, and student club leadership across a variety of panels and open forum discussions.  

To make for a new and interesting virtual experience, the Foster Tech Club leaned into the use of a new platform, Remo.  Remo provided the look and feel of a lounge whereby students, faculty, and guests could pull up a seat at any number of virtual ‘tables’ in order to have a smaller and more intimate conversation.

Chatting in the Remo Lounge and Breakout Rooms

Diversity in tech is of particular relevance for the Foster Full-Time MBA Program, where 53% of 2020 graduates entered the technology industry.  When the current Foster Tech Club board convened last April, Jessica Hatz (Foster Tech Club President) and Harshal Agarwal (EVP of Tech Club) wanted to create a space to address the role of tech and the tech industry in creating and sustaining inequity.  

‘As we were shaping our roadmap for the new academic year, we were heavily influenced by the occurrence of racial discrimination that unfolded over the summer. These events became our rallying cry to push the business and tech community to introspect and take meaningful action to change the status quo’.  – Jessica Hatz

Lack of diversity in the technology industry represents a subset of a greater societal problem: 2019 research from Crunchbase notes only 1% of venture-backed founders are black and only 9% of investments have gone to women-founded startups. Most Big Tech companies also fall short of having diverse workforces: 9/10 companies listed in a TechCrunch diversity research article have less than 10% of black employees.

With this reality in mind, the event kicked off with a presentation by Earl Overstreet, President at Global Market Innovators.  Earl began the process of introspection by posing three questions to the gathered collective.

  1. Is tech equity a problem?
  2. Is tech part of the problem?
  3. Is technology the solution?

Mr. Overstreet took the group through data demonstrating that there are significant gaps in equity across business units within the tech industry.  He also painted a clear picture of how inequities in access to technology early on in life have a compounding effect over time, leading to greater inequalities in accessing technology as a career.  In regards to technology being part of the problem of this inequity, Mr. Overstreet pointed to Microsoft’s earnings call last April in which Satya Nadella stated that ‘2 years of digital transformation have taken place in 2 months’.  The pandemic had significantly accelerated the pace of digital transformation, and while it has yielded benefits for firms like Microsoft and their customers, it has also further accentuated the digital divide. Finally, when it came to technology being the solution to combat growing inequality, the message centered around individuals exercising empathy and encouraging others within their network and firms to do the same. Grounded in the belief that ‘access equity’ (access to technology across racial and socio-economic lines) is a goal worthy of pursuit, the session concluded with the belief that harnessing the power of technology as an equity tool is both the biggest challenge and opportunity of the upcoming decade.

Across all the sessions, an overarching theme of ‘access’ emerged.  Access to technology, resources, the right network; access to the tools that empower individuals to rise.  Aaron Mitchell, Director of Human Resources for Netflix Animation Studio spoke about his initiative to increase access to senior executives and the C-suite at Netflix by hosting Jeffersonian dinners.  This forum allowed for the open discussion of issues that affect the attendees and provided a space where solutions, not just problems, could be discussed alongside individuals who had the power to effect change across the organization. 

                   Access Fireside Chat

A fireside chat with Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland, Kim Vu (Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – Remitly), Christina Fong (Associate Dean for Inclusion & Diversity), and Kelly Yu (VP of Diversity) addressed the need for organizations to widen their lens when looking at prospective employees.  The panel discussed doing away with rigid criteria such as focused recruitment at target schools as a means of bringing equity to the hiring process. Instead, they recommended a holistic view of the individual and assessing drive and potential, traits that are not borne out of belonging to an institution but rather are defined by an individual’s desire to succeed.

For those who participated in the sessions, the impact was quickly felt.  

To be honest, it was inspiring to see that many diverse women of high calibre on stage together. The part

that stood out to me was the conundrum that Christina pointed out about being in an MBA program. You are groomed to understand and fit in a certain culture but at the same time, you have to have the courage to recognize when change is necessary and push organizations to be better. This coupled with Kim Vu’s advice about how important it is to show up as your most authentic self was incredibly reassuring, as I ponder what role I will play in my future place of employment. 

 

One of the biggest takeaways I learned from the Fostering Tomorrow’s Tech Leaders: Managing for Equity event is to SPEAK UP! Creating an inclusive workplace where people can be their authentic selves and call out behaviors against their values builds trust and drives change both inside and outside the workplace. 

The event was both a reflection of the spirit of the soon-to-be graduating class of 2021 and an extension of the momentum generated by the class of 2022, eager to carry the torch of progress forward.  If you are interested in learning more about how you gain access to a powerful network of change and join our community, please reach out to the Foster Student Ambassadors or [email protected] to get the conversation started.