It’s no secret that the US tech industry is woefully lacking in diversity – pretty much how you might define that wide-ranging term.
Companies have spent millions (billions?) of dollars seeking to remedy the situation. But as recently as last year, African Americans and Hispanics made up only about 8% of the tech world, compared to 14% of the private sector. Women made up 36% of the tech workforce, compared to 48 percent in private industry. The disparity at the top is even more pronounced – tech executives are 83% white and 90% male.
Full disclosure (though not surprising, if you look at our About Us page): Spotlight was founded by three white males. Before working together, we were connected by loose friendship and an interest in taking steps to improve our schools, both locally and nationally. That mutual interest evolved into a determination to make education data accessible, understandable, and actionable to all kinds of users, including those who don’t speak English or don’t have the savvy to navigate our system.
But while we brought idealism and passion to our new venture, we did not bring much in the way of diversity. And in building our company rapidly while keeping risk at bay, we would reach out to friends and past colleagues. Known, trusted quantities.
Sure enough, after a couple of years, our team looked mostly like us. In mitigating risk, we ended up minimizing diversity — ethnic diversity, sure, but also diversity of perspective and contribution.
Perhaps that’s one reason why, after those couple of years, we hadn’t achieved real purchase on the market; our products weren’t flying off of the virtual shelves. Maybe we were telling ourselves what we wanted to hear, and not forcing ourselves to consider those diverse, even divergent voices that represented the very people who would use our applications.
But we’ve turned both corners: after four years, our staff is evolving into a more complex mix of ethnicities, languages, and genders – and meanwhile, we’re growing. Fast.
We retooled our product mix and our mix of questions in our interviews; we reviewed and adjusted our approach to developing new applications and to posting for new applicants. And we instituted new ways of getting feedback from customers – and from employees.
We’re not yet where we want to be in either area. We’re seeking more growth, and we’re even more committed to this concerted, directed effort to increase diversity in our own corner of the educational technology market.