Dialogue is ‘not enough’ to get more women into tech

Dialogue is 'not enough' to get more women into tech

The tech industry has been grappling with a diversity problem for years, with little progress to show. For a technology CEO, the only way forward for the industry is clear.

“Accountability has to happen,” Suneera Madhani, co-founder and chief executive of Stax, a billion-dollar fintech startup, told CNBC Make It. She says government incentives or even mandates for tech companies and investment firms might be needed to force the issue — because despite years of tech leaders trying and failing to address industry diversity issues, women and people of color remain woefully underrepresented.

Women make up about 32% of workers in the tech industry, down three percentage points from 1984, according to a joint study by Girls Who Code and Accenture. Black and Hispanic workers hold about 9% US jobs in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), despite making up 11% of the nation’s workforce, according to the Pew Research Center.

Madhani herself is a rarity in the tech world: a 34-year-old minority woman and leader of a start it is raised over $263 million in total funding. Women Founders and People of Color Attract Less than 1% of total venture capital funds, according to the nonprofit organization DigitalUndivided.

“The dialogue was great, but it’s not enough. We have to act,” Madhani said. “Stats are still stats… It’s still nonsense to me.”

Raising this startup funding statistic is the first step to making tech more diverse, Madhani says, because it could significantly increase the number of women and minorities in leadership positions in tech. These women- and minority-led tech companies could then attract and retain a diverse workforce and inspire a new generation of diverse founders and business leaders, she adds.

“America is the center of the world when it comes to capitalism. We should hold our [venture funds, private equity groups] and responsible investors to make sure we break those statistics,” says Madhani, who hosts a podcast titled “CEO School” aiming to inspire more women to start their own businesses. ” I don’t expect it to reach 50% overnight, but there should be more responsibility here to ensure that they invest in various founders.”

Studies show that diverse workforce often outperform their competitors financially, while improving employee morale. Madhani says she’s often felt “lonely as a woman” in tech, with a dearth of female leaders and mentors making his way much more difficult.

For example, she says, she was pregnant with the first of her two daughters when her company sought its Series A funding in 2016. At the time, several male mentors advised her not to mention her pregnancy to potential investors, to avoid raising concerns. on her ability to reconcile motherhood and running a start-up.

She took their advice – which she now regrets – by ordering mocktails while drinking with investors to avoid suspicion. Once she started showing, she says, questions about work-life balance started coming in — even though her male co-founders didn’t get such questions about their own family situations.

“I had to prove myself 10 times harder than the boys,” she says.

Madhani says these types of experiences are exactly why businesses and investment firms need to be held accountable. An idea, she says: “In fact, emitting [state or federal] mandates, and say that a certain percentage of funds should be invested in underrepresented and diverse founders.”

She also suggests expanding supplier diversity programsthat some companies and governments use to ensure they work with a number of minority-owned third-party vendors.

“There is a lot of work to do,” Madhani says. “But action has to happen. And accountability has to happen for change to happen faster.”

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