Will the “Next New World” really have so few women and people of color?

To:
Regarding: the lack of diversity in the Next New World speaker list

I became aware of Thomas Friedman’s Next New World forum through an advertisement in the New York Times. I am writing to express my disappointment that there are only three women and three people of color on the speakers list. I encourage the event sponsors–HP, [Update 5/5/2014: The Uiversity of California, Berkeley] The University of California, and the New York Times–to reconsider supporting this event or to work with the organizers to make this event a more inclusive and diverse one. [Update 5/5/2014: Sponsors also include Professionals In Human Resources Association (PIHRA)]

The forum, designed to explore how “the information-technology revolution and globalization have merged” and define “the skills necessary in the 21st century” leads with this question: “What is a job today and who is getting hired?” Well, unfortunately we do know something about who is and isn’t getting hired to work in technology-rich fields, and the data don’t look good. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s 2012 fact sheet:

NCWIT-2012-fact-sheet

And for the women who make up that 25% in professional computing occupations, we know about the kinds of everyday challenges and discrimination they face on the job. In fact, some of the stories of misogyny in the tech world are just horrifying. Gender bias, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, starts in grade school and leads to the “Leaky Pipe Problem” of women leaving the profession, in some cases even before they get there.

In addition to asking “How’s my kid gonna get a job?’’ in this world, you wonder, “How does our local school or university need to adapt?’’ The graphs below demonstrate how women are vastly underrepresented in computer science and engineering at all levels of higher education.

Comparing the change in numbers from 2001 to 2010, while women are earning slightly more degrees in certain fields (CS PhD’s, Engineering Master’s, and Engineering PhD’s), women’s degrees in other fields have decreased (CS Bachelor’s, CS Master’s, and Engineering Bachelor’s).

A U.S. Census Bureau report states that “[a]fter school, Nearly 1 in 5 female science and engineering graduates are out of the labor force, compared with less than 1 in 10 male science and engineering graduates.” And people of color are faring no better than women in the tech industry. Although in 2011 Hispanics made up 15 percent of the workforce, they “were 7 percent of the STEM workforce in 2011.”

In 2013, Mr. Friedman’s own employer, the New York Times, published an editorial entitled “Missing From Science Class: Too Few Girls and Minorities Study Tech Subjects” which stated:

…we have effectively written off a huge chunk of our population as uninterested in those fields or incapable of succeeding in them. … Blacks make up 11 percent of the workforce but just 6 percent of such jobs and Hispanics make up nearly 15 percent of the work force but hold 7 percent of those positions. … And in the fast-growing field of computer science, women’s representation has actually declined in the last 20 years, while minorities have made relatively small gains.

There are many reasons for the underrepresentation of women and minorities in technology fields, including lower expectations of people in power, lack of role models, lack of mentorship, and outright discrimination. At The Center for Inquiry‘s 2007 conference “The Secular Society and its Enemies,” in response to “The Larry Summers question: What’s up with chicks and science?” Neil deGrasse Tyson explained the forces working against underrepresented groups (Note: if the video doesn’t start in the right spot, scroll to 1:01:30 — 1 hour, 1 minute, 30 seconds):

Neil deGrasse Tyson sums up the experience of many women and people of color “in a white male dominated society” when he says “I wanted to become something that was outside of the paradigm of expectation of the people in power” and that his pursuit of science therefore “was hands down the path of most resistance through the forces of society.”

No wonder there’s a leaky pipeline.

As a woman who works in technology, who has a teenage daughter interested in STEM, and who is concerned about the way that white male privilege plays out–in the tech world and beyond–to the great detriment of women and people of color, I find this technology education and employment landscape disheartening at best.

You ask how we can “prepare our young people to thrive in this world?” One way is to show them that we value all members of our society regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation; that we support their ambitions and don’t undermine them because of our own biased ideas of what they ought to be doing; and that we provide them with positive role models, mentoring, and support to help them succeed. We need to seek out diverse voices and opinions in order to grapple with just the kinds of questions you are asking about education, globalization, and innovation.

I am sorry to say that, by including only tokens of diversity in your speaker lineup, you fail on all of these fronts. How can you talk about the “Next New World” when you are ignoring more than 50% of the people who make up this one?