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Red Hat’s Margaret Dawson: ‘We’re Really Not’ Seeing Equality, Diversity in Tech

Women in Technology

…women staying in tech or leaders in tech, and even numbers of younger women getting into computer science. So while you’ll see little spikes once in awhile, the situation isn’t actually changing. And so I think that is the real concern. Why are we not seeing that improvement even though we know there’s more conversation about it than ever before, more awareness about it than ever before, more programs and initiatives about it than ever before?

CP: What prompted your decision to create and give your “Snort Out Loud” talk, and what’s the response been like?

MD: There are some things that haven’t changed, and some of it is the culture in tech and do women feel like they are comfortable in that culture or welcome in that culture. Is it still kind of that alpha-male situation and so you’re just not getting people who feel like that’s something that they want to be around.

But I think there are some fundamental things that are happening back in literally middle school and how we are continuing as a culture, and I say that quite holistically, to still not push girls to think that they can excel in math or excel in science, or take that risk. We tend to put this protection bubble around them socially and academically, and you see them break out sometime later and that bubble catches up with them and they’re like, “Oh, I’ll just go take this job that’s not going to be as difficult or challenging, or disruptive.”

So I think that we still have a lot of work to do. We have to be much more intentional, and that makes people uncomfortable, where you start talking about we need to intentionally encourage girls who show a propensity for math or science, or we need to intentionally promote women who show a propensity to succeed, and maybe even push them. I can tell you that personally there’s lots of women who have worked with me or around me where I’ve said hey, why don’t you do that presentation on the Internet of Things (IoT) instead of creating that presentation for your male colleague. There [are] some little things that we need to do, but really that word intention I’m using intentionally because we’re hoping it happens accidentally.

CP: If there is going to be real improvement in terms of women in tech, who needs to be a part of it?

MD: It’s the entire supply chain. It’s everything from companies needing to make very intentional cultural changes and hiring decisions, to individual managers needing to seek it out. I will tell you on my team, we talk specifically about are we getting diverse candidates, and I mean diversity beyond even just women. Are we seeking them out, and if we’re not getting them, what do we need to do. So if HR is not bringing them to us, we need to be proactive. So everyone on my team knows that we need to have a much more intentional, proactive approach. And that’s hard work. It’s much easier to say, “I got two resumes; they’re both white men. OK, that’s who sent me those resumes.”

Parenting has a huge impact. I can tell you when I do a lot of my speaking, the people that really are a community that can drive change are fathers in tech … because they want their daughters to be astronauts, and so they’re starting to see that and the change that they can drive can be huge, as well as mothers, teachers and administrators. If I think about where those bottlenecks happen, it’s something as simple as a middle-school teacher saying, “Oh, you don’t need to go into that math 3 class, why don’t we keep you in math 2. An innocent-sounding decision can tell a young girl, “OK, I can’t do that.” The subtleties are …

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