On May 8, 2017, at precisely 11:41 a.m., I walked onstage at the San Francisco CTO Summit to give a talk titled “Tech and Inclusion. Why So Difficult?”
At $995 for the session, and with over 200 attendees, the event was billed as being presented by senior engineering leaders from startups (more than 75% are chief technology officers, vice presidents of engineering or directors of engineering). Previous presenters were the CTOs and VPEs of Stripe, Coinbase, MongoDB, Zenefits, Warby Parker, Squarespace, Shopify, Birchbox, Tumblr and CustomInk.
As I took my place on the stage, I looked out at the crowd and posed the question, “Who identifies as an African-American?”
No one responded.
It was if no one had noticed until that moment that the makeup of people in the room and the title of my talk were strangely in alignment.
With all the ongoing conversations and controversy surrounding inclusion and diversity, it is surprising that a tech conference in San Francisco — which bills itself as a place to learn and connect with your peers — allows this to happen.
Let’s unpack what makes it difficult.
1. Inclusion takes work.
You have to expand your network and ask for help from people you are not accustomed to asking for help from.
2. Inclusion is uncomfortable.
The conference organizers knew the title of my talk months in advance. How awkward would it have been for the conference organizers to ask for help in finding people of color to attend and present? Probably less awkward than me calling it out onstage.
3. Inclusion means changing the way you think about everything.