Increasing Diversity Among Data Professionals and the Tech Community

Lori Edwards

Published On: November 12, 2019

Categories: Community, PASS Summit, Women in Technology 0

SentryOne was proud to be the exclusive sponsor of the PASS Summit Women in Tech (WIT) Luncheon on November 7th. The event featured keynote speaker LaShana Lewis, CEO of L.M. Lewis Consulting, who presented on “Data-Driven Diversity: Using Your Skills to Make a Difference.”

LaShana Lews, WIT Luncheon Keynote

LaShana Lewis, PASS Summit WIT Luncheon Keynote

During the presentation, LaShana outlined the importance of diversity in business and how you can consider data through the lens of diversity and inclusion, using your skills as a data professional to raise awareness and make lasting change.

We had the chance to ask LaShana a series of questions unique to her experience in fostering diversity in the tech space.

Here’s what she had to say:

 Why do you think getting women in tech is so difficult?

From my conversations with women over the years, particularly women of color, the issue seems to be two-fold:

1) Women are often told that they aren't smart enough or need a higher degree of interest to be involved in technology. What I mean by this is that women are often told that unless they started off very young being interested or surrounded by technology, that it's "too late" to get involved when they're older (this could even be in their teens, as I was once told).

2) Once in tech jobs, women are often not supported within their positions by fellow coworkers or management (or sometimes both). At one company, 5 women of color left their jobs in tech within a one-month time period because either management and coworkers were forcing them into other positions that weren't technical, refused to promote them even when they asked, or they received direct verbal abuse from superiors that went unwarranted by upper management and HR. 

What have you found most difficult about working in the tech space?

What I've found the most difficult about working in the tech space has actually been getting access to adequate resources. A lot of times, many of the resources that are available are either poorly documented as far as gaining access or severely outdated. Some folks have become very comfortable in navigating technologies that are dying legacies and are resistant to changes or upgrades. Trying to convince management to invest in newer, alternative methods can be a challenge, but I've been successful by providing documentation and presentations that show the advantages of work efficiency and the bottom line (i.e. less cost per license). However, being a person of color and a woman in tech, getting this information across is often hard without having an advocate, ally, or sponsor to back me up in those meetings. Regardless of citations and statistics, my presentation may prompt endless questions. So, having someone in my corner to help express how much work I've put into what I've presented helps to get the point across.

What are your recommendations for increasing diversity among data professionals and the tech community? How can companies specifically use data to generate change?

In the presentation I plan to give, I stress that many of the data points needed to prove the need for diversity efforts to strengthen in a company are already available and can be easily generated into graphs, charts, and analysis tables that make sense to upper management. The trick and key is to utilize the data to speak to what the executives and upper management view as important factors, such as customer retention, revenue, and scalability while keeping costs low. As the world grows more diverse, so does our customer base. We need to use data models that reflect that we're up for the change or go the way of companies that simply refused to innovate.

What is your opinion on diversity training programs, and are there any you would recommend?

I believe diversity training programs are a great and essential first start. Any company should look at them as such. Companies that I work with are required to have this first before receiving any of my services. The reason I suggest it is because everyone in the company needs to be on the same page. I feel like diversity training programs are very good at this and allow individuals to seek out knowledge on issues or experiences that they either do not know or are not very aware of due to their regular environment. If a company has not had diversity training, I think they should go with a training program that is local to them that understands the unique diversity, equity, and inclusion needs within the workplace region. For large corporations that span multiple regions, they may want to invest in various services to achieve the same desired results for each region (i.e. US-based for US employees, South Asian-based for South Asian employees, etc.). Management that works with employees across various regions should take training that, at a minimum, covers the employees for that region. For instance, if a manager supervises employees in both Chicago within the United States and Chennai, India, the manager should be required to take diversity training from programs that are targeted for employees within the United States and India. This would help the manager more fully understand any biases that may occur due to regional cultural differences and identities.

What should tech companies that have basic diversity training and programs do to take it to the next level?

On a regular basis, companies should take the "temperature" of their employee base. By doing assessments, and coupling that with talks, roundtable discussions, and bringing in specialists within certain areas, employees can keep pace with their changing environment. I always tell companies that they must remember that most of the employees’ waking and learning hours are spent with them. So, the unspoken burden to the company is to keep the employee as up-to-date and culturally aware as possible, so that as new demographics and identity of employees emerge, they aren't sideswiped by culture shock.

What are some examples of tech companies that are doing this right, in your opinion?

Honestly, I have difficulty coming up with a tech company off the top of my head. I haven't seen too many that are consistently doing well with diversity, equity, and inclusion. One company that does come to mind is Starbucks. Starbucks hit it right on the nose with the introduction of its diversity initiatives almost immediately after a couple of incidents happened where bias was present in the employee base. Shutting down the company to do introductory training was a great first start. I wrote about it in a Medium article that I posted shortly after the incident occurred and company-wide training was announced. From the Starbucks Stories & News page, the company continues to monitor its activity and strives toward improvement with the diversity, equity, and inclusion sector, even highlighting mistakes they've made along the way and how they planned to remedy them.

There are men in the industry who want to help. What is your advice to them?

The advice I have for men is to be an out-and-loud advocate for women in technology and in the workplace, in general. They must understand the unique privilege given to them, and not assume that the way their boss talks to them is the same as how a fellow woman coworker may be approached. Niceness does not equate fairness. If a woman confides in a man regarding a situation that disturbs them, understand that the woman probably contemplated for a very long time even mentioning the issue, let alone admitting it to someone else! Several men have been advocates for me in this very position and have said that they felt more honored that I trusted them enough to tell them what was happening, despite what folks may think of me, than keeping it to myself and suffering in silence. Being an ally is important and can affect far beyond just the work world.

How does having a diverse workplace correlate with overall business performance?

When you think about it, most businesses exist to produce a product for a consumer. Although someone can try to cover every aspect of every type of consumer, there's nothing like having a reflection of that consumer in-house, understanding your product, and being able to provide first-hand candid responses to how their particular demographic may react to the product. As the world changes, so will the customer. So, it's best to have folks that look like the customer creating the product, as well. In the end, this will undoubtedly yield a product that is more well-thought-out. Internally, diversity has already been proven to help businesses scaled, as mentioned in this Forbes article from 2018.

Connect with SentryOne

At SentryOne, we are proud of the extra measures we take to foster diversity in the workplace. It’s why our award-winning culture continues to receive accolades.

If you missed us at PASS Summit, no worries. You can schedule a one-on-one demo and a SentryOne Solutions Engineer will show how our solutions can address your needs, whether you're building, testing, documenting, or monitoring data-centric applications on the Microsoft Data Platform.

Lori (@loriedwards) has been with SentryOne since 2013, and has recently transitioned from her role as Senior Solutions Engineer to Training Manager. She is responsible for all learning strategy and architecture, including building, executing, measuring, and evaluating training for SentryOne. Lori is also currently serving as a Director at Large for PASS. Lori shares tips and tidbits for DBAs picked up over years of working as a DBA, as well as stories about her job here. Whether you are a new DBA who wants to learn or someone interested in learning about what it is like to work for SentryOne, be sure to check out Lori’s blog.