Breakfast with The Next Web: Talking Diversity in Tech
I once witnessed a panel debate on PR at TQ, Amsterdam’s home for the tech community, and called the panel out. While the PR industry is overwhelmingly comprised of women, this panel featured three middle-aged white men. Interviewed by another man!
Note: I’m about to say something controversial, so bear with me.
Here in The Netherlands, I feel as though they are (with some progressive exceptions) really lagging behind in terms of sensitivity around inclusion and diversity. At least in some circles. I’ve lived in The Netherlands for six years, and have passed my official integration test, so I’m entitled to an opinion, right?
So here’s my take: the proudly honest and open culture of “we can say what we like,” “don’t be too sensitive” “lets put it all onto the table” is complicated. Especially so when this conversation occurs between two people of unequal power relations (note: please do not invite me to your office, and slip in that you have a hot tub, and I should wear a bikini. Seriously!)
But can’t we all have a laugh? Why are you so stuck up, Lucy? My most recent accusation came from a CEO of a company I was going to work with, calling me “a prude.” Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. But really, in the capacity of my professional life, it’s nobody’s business.
Back to this PR event. In response to my call out, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, Co-Founder of The Next Web responded welcomingly.
“You know, you’re right,” he said - shocking his fellow panellists. There and then, he made a commitment to not speak on an #allmalepanel again. He even signed a pledge!
Since this date, Boris VvZ and I have had a back and forth discussion (mostly through DMs on Twitter, but this morning in person).
Online, he makes jokes about condoms that say “TNW” and inflate to reveal The Next Web tagline, and I call out whether I think this is a great representation of company culture. It’s a back and forth, one that’s open on both ends - and perhaps he was right on the condom issue. Maybe it’s not a big deal. Anyway…
As a female entrepreneur, trying to launch and run a business, I know it’s not a smart move to be a “thorn in someone’s side.” I therefore made it clear when meeting Boris this morning: “I hope you’re not doing this out of guilt!’
In fact - just to be clear, I would much rather be having a different discussion with Boris; I’d like to discuss the future of the web, innovation, blockchain, big data. However, lo and behold, I keep finding myself pointing this 'diversity' issue out.
But if not me, then who? We all have a role in shifting this conversation along.
Lucky for me, Boris totally gets that. “So, why am I here?” I asked.
It’s pretty hard to jump into someone else’s world view. One’s stance on this issue is so subjective. So I tried my best to sit and listen. And I understood his dilemma, one facing the tech community at large. He said: “When I speak to my peers, and they hear someone is going to talk about inclusion or diversity, if they’re the only male in the room - they feel uninvited.”
“There is a small part of the male population that will never get it, and there’s a small population that totally do, but there is a huge 'middle community' that are just completely unaware of how to deal with this issue, and they feel attacked whenever it comes up.”
While discussing solutions to this issue, we both started to share our favourite tips and tools. We both highlighted 'Man who has it all' as an amazing platform that highlights the hidden bias in so many assumptions, job titles, and societal expectations.
I also love Getty’s Lean In stock photos which challenge stereotypes. We also pointed to recent scandals on this issue - at Nike and Uber, to name a few. The discussion then turned to how important it is to champion diversity as a driver of business. As this Fast Co article reveals, Nike’s toxic culture hit its bottom line.
When it comes to diversity, there is more than just female representation that must be addressed; we need age diversity, inclusion of people with disabilities, from different educational backgrounds, and walks of life.
Like Boris, I can only speak from my own experience, and so for me, the issue of female inclusion is particularly important. Recently, I partnered with an amazing writer, a female former-editor of The Next Web, who is helping me to understand the tech community, and how to work within it. You can read her aptly titled article: The Gender Gap in Technology Can Byte Me.
So where to from here?
Together with Boris leading this, we are creating an action plan to open up this discussion here in The Netherlands.
Our goal? To ensure this discussion is one that is constructive and inviting for all. Most importantly for me, I want to ensure it’s constructive, educational and highlights that diversity is an added-value for businesses. Don’t believe me? Read this amazing article on Campaign US featuring Cindy Gallop. In fact, Cindy reached out to us directly with a list of powerful Twitter accounts to follow on the cause.
I feel the most appropriate way to end this blog, is by directing you to this video below. It’s both hilarious, and frustrating. While it depicts another era, I swear to god I have seen this exact conversation happen in many other forms time and time, and time again.
Lucy von Sturmer is Founder of The HumbleBrag