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Tech Diversity Conference Draws Thousands to Long Beach

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The Wonder Women Tech conference in Long Beach this week aims to make tech and the arts more inclusive.

While most of us are bemoaning the lack of diversity in tech, the Wonder Women Tech Diversity & Inclusion Conference is actually doing something about it, bringing together a highly diverse group of tech luminaries to present to more than 3,000 attendees, about half of whom are college or even high school students, while the other half are mid-career or even upper-level executives, as well as entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Now in its fifth year, the two-day conference takes place this Thursday and Friday in Long Beach, California. Speakers include executives from Microsoft, Google, and Verizon, among others, as well as executives from high-profile startups such as Riot Games and thredUP. The event includes sessions and panels on women in space, successful black innovators, a session on how being aware of bias aids inclusiveness, and a 3D printed fashion show.The group holds smaller Wonder Women Tech conferences in Washington, D.C., and London, and a new one is planned for April 23 to 26 in Manaus, Brazil.

The purpose of the events is to provide opportunities and inspiration for a better gender balance and greater diversity in all STEAM fields (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics). STEAM is a relatively new acronym–STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) may be more familiar–but it’s important to include the arts, particularly media, when trying to improve gender imbalance and diversity, according to Lisa Mae Brunson, founder and director of Wonder Women Tech. Several of the event’s organizers, including Brunson, have a media background, she explains. “Movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp are happening in media. Those are timely topics.”

It started with Hacks 4 Humanity.

From 2011 to 2016, Brunson had been working on a project called Equality TV, a planned platform, YouTube channel and series to provide video programming highlighting marginalized and underrepresented communities and topics. Though that project was never fully realized, it led to several associated projects, among them Hacks 4 Humanity, a hackathon held at Arizona State University in which participants were invited to create mobile or web-based apps for social good. The first Hacks 4 Humanity took place in 2014, and it’s still going strong as an annual ASU event. That first Hacks 4 Humanity led to a second event called Wonder Women Hacks with the participation of the City of Los Angeles.

“It turned into a full-scale conference through our work, sitting in my living room,” Brunson says. “We had no budget, but everyone was raising their hands to participate.” Now, she says, with the event taking place in the Long Beach National Conference Center, with the support of the city of Long Beach, whose mayor is one of the conference speakers, “It’s taken on a life of its own.”

The conference has a track on career development, she says, where participants can meet not only executives from major companies but also startup founders. “We’ve seen people launch companies after attending the conference,” Brunson says. Some of this comes from skills in things like negotiation gained during sessions at the conference, but the important benefit is getting to see successful founders and executives who don’t fit into Silicon Valley’s dominant white male demographic. “The most important thing is understanding and networking with people like themselves who are looking to make their mark in the world,” she says.

Kamala Harris and Cory Booker blast Comcast in $20B Byron Allen civil rights lawsuit

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Days before the new session of the Supreme Court is set to begin, an ever-growing chorus of displeasure with the alliance between Comcast and Donald Trump’s Department of Justice in Byron Allen’s $20 billion battle with the NBCUniversal owner grew even louder and potentially more presidential.

In the closing hours for amicus briefs to be filed to the high court earlier this week, Oval Office contenders Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) joined with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the influential Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal to stop a perceived pivotal change to long-standing civil rights legislation in the case that is to be heard before the justices on November 13.

“The statute at issue in this case—42 U.S.C. § 1981—was passed immediately after the Civil War as part of a broader effort to ensure that the newly freed slaves enjoyed the same rights as other citizens,” the Senators and Congressional Representatives state. “This Court should not rewrite Section 1981 and disturb the vital protections that Congress passed that statute to provide.”

Amid battling Allen and his Entertainment Studios for nearly four years in the courts, Comcast got a boost from the Trump administration on August 15, when the William Barr-led Justice Department filed a brief that seeks to tighten the definitions of the Reconstruction Era statute in the Philadelphia-based corporation’s favor.

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The DOJ’s brief frames the statute to require that Entertainment Studios has to prove race was not merely a motivating factor, as the 9th Circuit interpreted the statute earlier this summer. Now, if Chief Justice John Roberts and associate justices agree, Allen’s lawyers would have to prove that race was absolutely the only reason Comcast didn’t place the company’s channels on its distribution services and platforms – which is a near-impossible standard by any measure. (read more)

Despite Controversies, Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman Proves to Be a Winner at Box Office

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There’s a famous quote that has been attributed — perhaps falsely — to Harriet Tubman through the years about how she would’ve been able to free many more slaves only if they realized they were actually enslaved.

Or something like that.

I bring that up to say that despite some racially-charged, micro-aggressive attitudes (by some blacks) towards the new big picture biopic chronicling the legacy of the trailblazing abolitionist, the Kasi Lemmons-helmed Harriet has proven to be a winner at the box office.

According to Forbes, audiences turned out in a big way for the Focus Features film starring Broadway star Cynthia Erivo in the leading role as the legendary Black History Month figure — a freedom fighter who helped free hundreds of enslaved black people during the 19th century through a secret network known as The Underground Railroad.

“I’m happy to note that audiences seem to be showing up, with the film netting a solid $12 million opening weekend,” film industry writer Scott Mendelson wrote on Sunday.

“That’s a promising 3.07x multiplier from an A+ Cinemascore grade,” he added.

Running 2 hours and 5 minutes, the Debra Martin Chase-produced epic opened in a little over 2,000 theaters and outpaced big-budgeted box office juggernauts such as Malificent: Mistress of Evil and an animated adaptation of The Addams Family TV series. (read more)

10 Diversity And Inclusion Trailblazers You Need To Get Familiar With

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Research indicates that employees and consumers alike are craving more socially responsible companies, and organizations have taken notice. More and more companies are taking a vested interest in fostering a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for employees. With the rise of this interest, there has been an increase in the number of professionals whose work focuses on fostering more diverse and inclusive environments. It is important to highlight the changemakers of the industry who are moving the needle forward. Below you will find a list of 10 professionals (in no particular order) who are doing great work that is focused around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

1.    Dr.Nika White. Dr. Nika White is a leadership consultant and diversity practitioner focused on helping companies overcome barriers related to DEI. Nika has over 20 years of related experience in the field and has helped more than 80 companies and institutions with their DEI efforts. As the Head of Diversity and Inclusion at the Greenville Chamber, Nika has been able to implement DEI practices that have transformed the city and created lasting changes in her native South Carolina. Nika holds a Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership. In addition to her extensive consulting experience, Nika has written two books on diversity and inclusion: The Intentional Inclusionist and Next Level Inclusionist: Transforming Your Work and Yourself for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Success. Nika is making waves and transforming businesses and institutions around the country through her consulting company.

2.    Deborah Levine. Deborah Levine is the founder and editor-in-chief of the American Diversity Report. Deborah is also the author of 14 different books focused on religious diversity and developed the Matrix Model Management System, a tool designed to measure the Big Data of diversity. Deborah has 33 years of extensive experience in the field of DEI and has designed different resources on inclusion and unconscious bias. Deborah is a trainer and speaker who uses interactive and storytelling-based methodology to connect with her audience. Deborah’s work on diversity has been published in the HuffPostHarvard Divinity School Bulletin, and The Journal of Public Management & Social Policy.

4.    Wayne Sutton. Wayne Sutton is the co-founder of Change Catalyst and Tech Inclusion, which were both created with the purpose of fostering more diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. In 2019, Wayne co-founded The Icon Project, whose mission is to build emotionally intelligent Black and Brown men in the tech industry. Wayne has been recognized numerous times by different publications and is regarded as a thought-leader in the tech diversity and inclusion space. Wayne also visits numerous companies to deliver talks on tech DEI. (read more)

Byron Allen v. Comcast: Supreme Court Race Case Could Reshape Bias Lawsuits

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When Byron Allen first launched a legal rampage back in 2015, few would have guessed he would get to the Supreme Court with a case that could transform the way discrimination lawsuits are handled and represents a coda on 19th century Reconstruction efforts after the Civil War.

Once known as the entrepreneur who debuted as a stand-up comedian on The Tonight Show as a teenager, Allen, 58, sued cable operators and satellite distributors after they refused to license his small channels devoted to topics including criminal justice, cars and pets. He hired an attorney who defended the city of Los Angeles in the Rodney King beating case and demanded tens of billions of dollars via allegations of a racial bias conspiracy against Comcast, DirecTV, Charter and others.

Just how out there was Allen’s lawsuit? The NAACP and Al Sharpton were originally co-defendants in the case for allegedly taking actions to “whitewash” Comcast’s discriminatory business practices. As the story was told in the suit, when Comcast sought regulatory approval for its 2010 bid to acquire NBCUniversal, it looked to gather support. To calm any fears that the merger would have a detrimental impact on diversity, Comcast made voluntary commitments and came to memoranda of understanding with various civil rights groups like the NAACP, National Urban League and Sharpton’s National Action Network. But Allen took issue with those so-called “sham” agreements, questioning the monetary donations that Comcast had made to these groups and further challenging how Comcast was spending $25 billion annually on channel licensing, but less than $3 million on what he characterized as “100% African American-owned media.”

On the day the suit was filed, Sharpton called me and strenuously took issue with the claim that his reported $750,000 salary for hosting an MSNBC show was essentially a disguised payment for having supported Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal. Sharpton promised he’d retaliate against Allen with a defamation suit. (That never happened, and he and other civil rights groups were dismissed from the case.)

A lot has changed in the four years since the case was first filed. For starters, Allen has proved himself to be one of the most ambitious moguls in entertainment. In 2018, he spent $300 million to buy The Weather Channel. Then he teamed with Sinclair Broadcast Group to buy Fox’s sports assets that were divested as part of the Disney merger. And on Oct. 1, he unveiled a $290 million deal to acquire 11 local TV stations affiliated with CBS, NBC and ABC. Now Allen’s Comcast suit will be heard by the Supreme Court during the term that began Monday.

Allen’s suit was rejected three times by a district court judge who saw no plausible case that discrimination caused Comcast to not license Allen’s channels.

In reviving the case and giving Allen the green light, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Allen needed only to plausibly allege that discriminatory intent was a factor in — not the “but-for” cause of — Comcast’s refusal to license his channels. And the appeals court saw enough to meet this standard from the allegation that Comcast was carrying about 500 networks that Verizon, AT&T U-verse and DirecTV were carrying, but unlike its rivals, it did not carry Allen’s. In addition, Comcast was offering carriage to “lesser-known, white-owned networks” like Fit TV, Current TV and Baby First Americas. Comcast may have had legitimate reasons (e.g., no interest in spending millions for Allen’s channel about pets), but the appeals court felt that should be weighed at a latter portion of the case.

That the Supreme Court accepted review may be partly attributable to how the business community has locked onto Allen’s dispute with Comcast as an exemplar of tort nuisance. A supporting brief from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged the high court to take it up and argued that choices made in the workplace can be “inherently subjective,” and that by making Comcast prove a negative from the get-go — that discrimination isn’t any factor in decision-making — such a standard will impose unwarranted litigation costs and reputational harm on companies throughout the country.

In recent years, the Supreme Court’s growing contingent of conservative justices has acted as a miserly gatekeeper on civil litigation by heightening pleading standards in other contexts, spelling out the requisite injury to maintain a lawsuit and broadly enforcing arbitration agreements. As such, Allen probably goes into the Supreme Court battle, set to be argued Nov. 13, as an overwhelming underdog. The Trump administration is supporting Comcast, led by CEO Brian Roberts, telling the high court there may be repercussions for other federal anti-discrimination laws, too. U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco has requested the opportunity to participate in the oral hearings. (read more)

CALIFORNIA STATE SCHOOLS SEEK TO CLOSE DIVERSITY GAP IN TECH

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Two California State University campuses have announced that they will be launching an initiative to align the coursework in their computer science curricula with the evolving demands of employers in their state in order to expand the pipeline of computer science graduates of color who land jobs in the field. The ultimate goal of the new program, which is being implemented in partnership with the nonprofit CodePath.org, is to close the diversity gap in tech.

Currently, California reportedly has more than 220,000 unfilled software development job openings. Even more important is that this occupation is expected by experts to increase by 40% within the next decade. However, employers in this field have trouble finding talent in the state, which can stunt economic growth.

This is where California State University campuses come in.

Through this initiative, “the CSU Monterey Bay and Dominguez Hills campuses will offer CodePath.org’s industry-aligned software engineering courses, built in concert with the state’s top tech employers, as part of their core computer science programs.”

As Sathya Narayanan, professor of computer science at CSU Monterey Bay, said in a statement:

“CodePath.org’s courses are a model for how we can scale industry-relevant coding education at multiple campuses without reinventing the wheel each time. By bringing recruiters, engineering departments, and higher ed to the table, we’re building a system that layers our faculty’s existing expertise with high-impact training in fast-growing fields like cybersecurity and iOS development.”

As an official technical training partner to the CSU campuses, CodePath.org has trained more than 4,000 developers at more than 800 technology companies, including Microsoft, Facebook, and Airbnb, since 2013.

In this collaboration with California’s universities, Codepath.org seeks to narrow the diversity gap in tech by helping students of color to gain access into tech industries. CSU Monterey Bay, for example, has a population in which 40% of the students are Hispanic and have now implemented CodePath.org’s iOS development and cybersecurity courses in their curriculum.

Graduates of a recent CodePath.org cohort, where 70% of the students were women or underrepresented minorities, “were approximately three times more likely to receive a technical job offer after completing the program than if they had applied through companies’ standard recruiting process.”

Diversity leaders shine a light on systemic disparities

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Experts speaking at The Hill’s Diversity Matters Summit called for more transparency in addressing disparities due to limited inclusion of minority and at-risk groups.

The summit, hosted by Vanda Pharmaceuticals, pulled together experts and leaders with a focus on inclusion in all fields, from the workplace to healthcare and education.

Assistant Speaker Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) told The Hill Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons that during his stint as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee “the most diverse team we’d ever seen at the committee.”

“There’s only one way to hold us all accountable, release the numbers,” added Lujan.

But experts at the event agreed that organizations seeking to build diverse teams too often find a reduced pool of diverse candidates, driven by a lack of access to education.

“There’s a lot of people in the diversity arena who will say, ‘it’s not just a pipeline issue’ and it is not just a pipeline issue, but pipeline is table stakes,” said Susie Armstrong, senior vice president of engineering at Qualcomm.

And wealth disparities among demographic groups are a core obstacle to feeding that pipeline to create top-tier diverse professionals.

“We live in a world now where if you don’t get a graduate degree or continue your higher education you’re probably at a disadvantage and if you didn’t grow up in a family with a lot of wealth or you took on a decent amount of undergraduate debt, it’s just not realistic for you to go back to graduate school,” said David Sutphen, chief strategy and engagement officer at 2U, an educational technology company that partners with non-profit colleges and universities to offer online degrees.

Still, organizations that invest in diverse talent and hire diverse teams reap benefits to their bottom line, according to the panelists.

Elizabeth Marengo, head of diversity and inclusion at Nestlé, said the multinational conglomerate’s research shows women have 70 percent of buying power within their homes, African Americans are 30 to 40 percent more likely to buy from a company that “reflects their social issues,” and Hispanic millennials are “50 percent more likely to share something on social media if they’re bought into the product and feel they’re represented and supported.”

“When you’re able to connect the actual facts about those communities and how they influence the bottom line and keep that present, and then can layer in a second part of that conversation as how are they represented? We look at our marketing organization – do we have those people in our marketing department?” asked Marengo.

And Danielle Burr, head of federal affairs at Uber, said diversification is not a choice, but a need.

“Our customers are demanding it, our employees are demanding it and so it’s a real commitment that companies are making to diversify. And they have to make that commitment, they have to make it publicly,” said Burr.

While the lack of inclusion takes a heavy toll on racial minorities, women, members of the LGBT community and people with disabilities, awareness of diversity as an asset has grown in many sectors, said the experts.

“At least there’s an awareness that a lack of diversity is detrimental to your office, but that’s not to say we’ve achieved the goal of where we want to be,” said Tiffany Cross, founder of The Beat DC, a newsletter that covers the intersection of politics, policy, and people of color.

“Why wouldn’t you want your staff to reflect America? Why wouldn’t you want the ethnic diversity that brings diversity of thought to your team?” added Cross.

K Street executives under pressure on diversity

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The lobbying world has been under pressure to diversify, and that scrutiny is now turning to the ranks of corporate lobbyists.

Eight of the top 10 spenders on lobbying among corporations have men leading their in-house teams.

But the rest of the top 10 corporate spenders on lobbying — Amazon, Facebook, United Technologies, Boeing, AT&T, Koch, Pfizer and Lockheed Martin — have men leading their D.C. offices.

Overall, at least 22 corporate heads of companies’ D.C. offices are people of color, according to data from the Washington Heads of Office, a group made up of senior government affairs executives of color. But those in the lobbying world say the numbers should be higher.

“Washington is a sophisticated, progressive, educated, affluent city. But given that environment, the fact that the political and advocacy worlds are not more diverse, it’s a major problem that has to be addressed and it’s a serious issue,” Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council, told The Hill.

Trade associations, lobbying shops and law firms say they are working to diversify their ranks after growing pressure amid the most diverse Congress in history. But critics say the top lobbying jobs at companies don’t see frequent turnover, and they say companies need to better nurture their talent pipeline.

“It’s not for lack of trying within the company. I think the issue, a lot of it is a pipeline problem in Washington,” Pinkham said.

“There aren’t that many folks in the top roles. There are some pipeline folks, but they still have a way to go, and that’s the challenge,” executive recruiter Julian Ha, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles, told The Hill.

Some companies are flush with minority and female lobbyists, but just not at the top spot.

Timothy McBride is the senior vice president of government relations at United Technologies. His lobbying team includes two African American men and two women, one of whom is Latina.

Philip Ellender is the president of government and public affairs at Koch, but the company has a woman, Catherine Haggett, as director of federal affairs.

There are also prominent companies with minorities in the highest ranks.

Alphabet, the parent company for Google, is the 11th highest spender on lobbying. Karan Bhatia, who is of Indian descent, is Google’s vice president of government affairs and public policy. In the top 15 spenders, FedEx’s D.C. operation is led by Gina Adams, an African American woman, and Microsoft’s by an African American man, Fred Humphries.

And there are more women in the 11–20 tier of corporate spenders. Victoria Blatter heads the D.C. office for Amgen Inc., Liz Reicherts leads the office for General Motors, and two energy giants, Chevron and ExxonMobil’s D.C. offices, are captained by Maria Pica Karp and Jeanne Mitchell, respectively.

But “a lot more needs to be done,” said Humphries, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of U.S. government affairs. “There’s a lot of exceptional, untapped talent in this town among people of color. We need more investment, more resources, more mentoring and a real, concerted effort to expand our pipelines.”

H Street Group, an informal association for Asian American lobbyists, told The Hill none of their members are leading D.C. corporate lobbying offices. (read more)

TYPES OF DIVERSITY IN THE WORKPLACE YOU NEED TO KNOW – A guide to 34 unique diversity characteristics

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In a previous article, we covered the basics of ‘what is diversity?’ with a brief definition, list of diverse characteristics and a few quotes from companies on what diversity means in the workplace. Now we’re taking a deeper dive into the distinct characteristics that make each and every one of us unique from one another.

Keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list. While diversity encompasses the spectrum of infinite dissimilarities that distinguish individuals from one another, there are a few areas that are more commonly discussed in the HR and recruiting realm. That being said, we are focusing on the top 34 types of diversity characteristics.

 

TOP 34 TYPES OF DIVERSITY IN THE WORKPLACE

The number of factors that define diversity is truly unlimited. Throughout an individual’s life, the unique biological and genetic predispositions, experiences and education alter who they are as a person. These nature versus nurture interactions are what diversify and evolve the human race, allowing individuals to connect and learn from each other.

While such idiosyncrasies are infinite, there are a number of factors commonly discussed, considered and tracked. If you’re looking to better understand the topic of diversity, you should know the following individual differences that are commonly considered when discussing diversity in the workplace. (read more)

Study: Diverse Companies Are More Innovative

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Companies that promote diversity are more innovative, according to a new study from N.C. State University’s Poole College of Management.

Co-author Richard Warr said companies that foster a diverse work force—in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation—tend to introduce more new products and create more patents. Those patents, in turn, are cited elsewhere more often.

“You know every company says, ‘We value diversity,'” said Warr. “It’s whether or not they actually have hard policies in place that would actually have kind of meaningful effects on diversity in the workforce.”

Warr said this goes beyond “managerial indulgence,” wherein an already-successful company offers more rewards to more employees. It’s well-established that diverse teams devise more creative solutions. But this research shows that strong diversity policies actually cause greater innovation.

“The data says that increasing the diversity policy does lead to an increase and patents and citations, but the reverse does not occur,” he said.

The benefits aren’t limited to big, progressive tech companies in Silicon Valley, Warr added. Service, construction and manufacturing firms that promote the advancement of employees with diverse race, gender and sexual orientations also tend to be more innovative. Warr said this holds true if you take California out of the mix altogether.

“We look at 49 states of data, and we find the same results hold. So it’s not being driven by just the really big tech companies, which are…allegedly great places to work,” he said. “It’s much more widespread throughout the economy.”

On the flip side, Warr said companies with negative events or scandals regarding employee diversity tend to be less innovative.

The paper was co-authored by Roger Mayer of N.C. State and Jing Zhao of Portland State University. Their study has been published in the journal “Financial Management.”

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