5 ways tech leaders can address racial inequity, from diversity expert and tech CEO Cheryl Ingram

cheryl ingram

Dr. Cheryl Ingram has seen the statements from tech companies this week, expressing outrage over the death of George Floyd and speaking out against the racial inequities in our society.

Now it’s time for leaders to go beyond talk and take action, she says. Actually, the time was long ago. But now would work.

Tech has “a huge responsibility,” Ingram said, not only due to the prevalence of bias in the industry against women, people of color and people with disabilities, but because of the potential for tech companies to have a positive impact.

“If the tech industry comes together and really starts to fight for change, we’re going to see change happen much faster in our country,” she said.

Ingram is the CEO and founder of consulting firm Diverse City and tech startup Inclusology, which is developing a tech platform for diversity, equity and inclusion assessments inside companies. Ingram shifted Diverse City’s operations to L.A. in 2018 but remains engaged with the Seattle community.

We’re featuring her story on this episode of the GeekWire Podcast, including a conversation from last fall and a follow-up discussion this week in which she addressed the tech industry’s role in the racial inequities in society.

As part of our discussion, Ingram presented several concrete steps for tech leaders to take to start to solve the problem.

Support non-profits run by people directly impacted by these problems. “When you look at the profits that you have in your company, you need to take some of that money and reinvest it in the community in a sustainable way. I don’t mean just giving it to nonprofits that are run by white leaders who have a white savior complex. … Look at the people who are victims, who are doing the work. I’m not saying other organizations are not worthy. But when we think about financial disparities, that even exists in the nonprofit industrial complex.”

Support laws and take action to stop gentrification. “When you move into an area and you push out small businesses owned by disadvantaged business owners, you need to be finding a way to give them stipends so they can afford to exist, or you need to be fighting for the cost of living to be equitable, for everybody that’s impacted, and just not the income that you offer.”

Elevate, empower and embrace internal voices. “Many of you have social responsibility programs and employee resource groups. You need to be giving those groups spaces to not just be there, but to also have impact in the decisions that you make, when you go into communities that fit into their identity. … The feedback that they give you based on the experiences that they have in the community needs to be applied to what you do accordingly, and not just to meeting your business case and your bottom line.”

Invest more money into diversity, equity and inclusion. “DEI is not a program or initiative. It needs to be interwoven into everything that you do. It needs to be in your hiring, it needs to be in your recruiting, it needs to be in your promotion, it even needs to be in the way that you fire people.”

Understand the communities from which you recruit: “If you look at the qualifications and where those are lacking, most of that is because of racial disparities within our communities. If you’re going to go into communities and recruit people from those communities, you need to do some research and development on the challenges that they have.”

Ultimately, Ingram says, she’s optimistic about the potential for meaningful change.

“I think it’s going to take a lot of pain and suffering, unfortunately, which I really don’t want to see,” she said. “Whenever great change happens in this country, it’s because we have to work really hard to overthrow the powers that be that create racial disparities for us. If there are people in powerful positions who don’t see what’s happening in the world, and they don’t acknowledge it, we’re going to have a hell of a time getting them out of the way. But we need to, or they need to change.”

“If you want to see change, first you have to change,” she said, “and if you’re not willing to change, then your position of power needs to change.”

Listen to the full podcast with Cheryl Ingram above, and follow her on LinkedIn

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