Leaders tout tech diversity during Oakland conference

Tech and political leaders gathered in Oakland this week to tout diversity in technology jobs, agreeing that it’s very much a work in progress.

The city of Oakland is particularly well-suited to embrace a diverse technology workforce, said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, the keynote speaker for the event.

“Inclusion is so important,” Mayor Schaaf said during her speech Tuesday. “Oakland is a perfect place for inclusion. We also have to expand our idea of inclusion and how we get there faster, better, sooner.” She added, “Oakland is the perfect place to start this movement.”

A broader perspective is needed for leadership in an array of endeavors — political, tech and corporate — the mayor told the gathering.

“There is no substitute for having personally experienced those subtle but cutting and very real insults, discouragements and barriers that are put in front of many different types of people who are not the predominant identity in whatever field we are talking about,” Schaaf said. “It is good for your business, it is good for your government, to have those different life experiences reflected.”

The conference was hosted by Oakland-based Snagajob, an online marketplace that connects hourly workers to employers. Executives from Yelp, Lever, TechEquity Collaborative, Techqeria, and Project Include were on a panel that discussed how to improve diversity in technology.

San Francisco-based Yelp, which posts crowdsourced reviews online, believes that diversity in tech won’t be achieved overnight, either at Yelp or in the industry generally.

“As a tech company, this is going to be a long road, which is very unusual for tech because we think in six-week sprints and products that are obsolete almost before they get to market,” Rachel Williams, Yelp’s head of diversity and inclusion, said in an interview with SiliconBeat after the conference. “This is something that is going to be an eight-, to 10-, to 12-year road for us.”

That time horizon means that political and business leaders must invest in the education system in the Bay Area and nationwide, Williams said.

“For a while, these events were really a little dry, because the only people who attended were people of color, people with the represented groups were the only ones talking,” Williams said. “I always asked the question, ‘where are those in power and privilege?’ And today I saw a better mix that included people who can actually create change, create jobs, including the mayor. This was a well-thought out event that will carry some weight and change the conversation.”

Jocelyn Mangan, chief operating officer with Snagajob, agreed that the mayor’s presence was a game-changer for tech diversity efforts in the Bay Area.

“If you really want to impact change, you want to hear from people who are in a position to create that change,” Mangan said.


Photo: Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf speaks at a technology workforce diversity conference in downtown Oakland. (George Avalos/Bay Area News Group)


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