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BIG THINKER
“Diversity means better innovation, as your team looks more like the Internet.”
Harper Reed, social media pioneer and former CTO of Obama for America
Why the IT industry needs to become a more diverse place
Image: Robin Mellor
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Why the IT industry needs to become a more diverse place

November 2013
Creating a representative technology workforce, says Harper Reed, leads to better innovation — products that map onto your user base.

Something that I think about a lot is how to get more people into technology, which, sadly, has not been the most inclusive of fields. The question is: how do we ultimately make the leadership of technology not just white or Asian guys? Today, it’s just bleak in terms of the numbers of minority leaders we have in IT.

I think what we have to do is engage people in technology when they are younger. So I’m passionate about getting more technology into early education, into elementary schools, in front of young people; that’s when me and my peers learnt.

From there, those who have the aptitude and the love of it — no matter where they’re from, no matter what they look like — will grow up with it. But to foster those next leaders, you have to focus on everyone, on every group.

“If I walked into an interview with an all-woman engineering team, I would probably be a little nervous — like ‘wow, this is different.’”

The thing that’s important is to make organizations themselves just less ‘beardy’, not so ‘bro-y.’ And that’s actually pretty hard because in IT we have a monoculture, where it’s often just a bunch of white guys working together.

To do so, we need to hire outside of where we’re comfortable. That doesn’t, of course, mean hiring people based just on who they are or what they are; it means hiring people that you wouldn’t have given the time of day to because your biases got in the way. And we all have biases we need to fight against.

What we can do is invite more people into the interview process, get a wider group of people to help find candidates, and make sure that when people come in for an initial interview, there’s always an opportunity for them to ‘flub’ it once, because they might be nervous.

If I walked into an interview with an all-woman engineering team, I would probably be a little nervous. I’d be like, “wow, this is different.” And it’s like that for all the women who come into these very male-centric environments. You just need to make it easier for everyone.

What is exciting about that is that it immediately results in greater diversity on your team, which means better innovation because the team then looks more like the Internet; it looks like your users. And when the team looks like the users they can build better products for your users.

The thing we learned in the Obama for America campaign, and the thing I’d like to express more to CIOs and CTOs, is that people are the most important part of technology. It’s the same in all businesses, but with a political campaign it’s overtly 100% about people — the aggressive need to empower people in order to solve a big problem. Without the people, IT teams wouldn’t really have anything to build for, we wouldn’t have anything to build, and we wouldn’t have anyone to do the work. In fact, when I get together with other CTOs, all the initial talk and questions are always about technology, but then all the other 100 questions are about people.
First published
November 2013
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About: Harper Reed
Social media pioneer Harper Reed, 35, led IT for Obama for America 2012, orchestrating the most sophisticated application of technology ever in a political campaign. He is now CEO of m-commerce start-up Lunar Technology.

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