Tech and Gender Inclusivity: We Can Do Better

Last fall, we launched our inaugural InNEVator accelerator program – an 8 week, fully funded IoT Bootcamp hosted out of the University of Nevada, Reno Innevation Center—Powered By Switch. Our first year was truly fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants, and as such, we made some mistakes and learned some lessons along the way.

One of the biggest mistakes we made was not being deliberate and proactive about trying to recruit a gender diverse cohort. After our inaugural program, I spent time talking to friends and colleagues who work in the tech field about what I had done wrong.

“Did you post on sites specifically for women in tech?” they asked.

“What about the language you used in the applications? That really affects applicants.”

“Did you think about the images used?”

“What kind of outreach methods? Were they active toward capturing a diverse audience or passive?”

I had knowledge and resources right at my fingertips. Even though I am not an expert on marketing to a diverse audience, I know people who are. In retrospect it seemed obvious that I should have reached out to colleagues who are experts in tech and gender diversity, and taken steps much earlier and much more proactively, if I wanted a diverse group of applicants.

Here are a few lessons I learned, and steps I took differently for this year’s application process:

  1. The first step is saying: we can do better. The numbers vary, but at the high end women only comprise 20% of technical positions in the STEM fields. Acknowledging the problem and how your program is part of the problem is the first step in trying to work toward a solution.
  1. If you wait passively for a diverse audience, it will not happen. Gender diversity needs to be considered from day one and throughout the planning, marketing, and applicant outreach.
  1. The images and language you use matter. Having a third party review your website and materials can help call attention to whether your language and imagery is inclusive. If you are part of the process, you may be too close to the work to see that your materials are not inclusive.
  1. Recruitment is only the beginning. Once people come to the program, will they see others like them? Will they feel comfortable? Having a space where a diverse group feels comfortable takes work and is just as important as recruiting a diverse group of applicants.

For InNEVator 2018, 10% of our applicants this year had a female founder, and one of the accepted companies into the cohort has a female founder who is on-site participating in the program. While I am proud to have a more gender diverse cohort, I feel this is only the beginning – we can do much, much better. Having a more diverse group of applicants and participants in the program will benefit all involved. I hope to continue to learn and grow how we can improve the diversity of InNEVator on all axes – something that is only possible through work, listening, learning, and pushing back.