Real Equity is Essential to the Future of Tech

May 31, 2023  • Shijuade Kadree & Aspen Digital

We are at a crossroads moment when it comes to the way we think about business ethics and leadership in tech. Tech is a microcosm of the current state of our country: it is beholden to the same systemic and institutionalized practices that have harmed underrepresented communities. However, given the increasingly important role technology plays in people’s lives, tech companies have a unique capacity and opportunity to drive systemic change around racial and social inequities.

Making the tech industry more representative of the diverse world it serves means moving beyond just checking boxes and instead requires a new paradigm to translate inspiration into measurable, scalable action. Despite the early learnings in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, DEI efforts still over-rely on recruitment efforts, little on retention of said talent, and almost no effort is put forth in other verticals of the business. But what if DEI wasn’t just a set of ideas companies claimed to stand behind, but rather became about more than just meeting the status quo?

That’s where the Tech Accountability Coalition comes in.

Traditionally, DEI has taken a “compliance-based” approach, pigeonholed as primarily an HR function failing to motivate and inspire people while, ironically, stigmatizing underrepresented groups. Tech’s current approach is often dispersed, individual, and short-term because it’s led by committed individuals, rather than being embedded as a business practice. DEI experts understand that the impact and importance is much more systemic than just increasing the representation of race and gender in the workplace. Instead, we need an approach that provides tangible and measurable guideposts for how to implement and develop innovative, sustainable, and scalable solutions; ones that don’t have to depend on another tragedy or global protest to drive forward change. In recognition of this approach, the Tech Accountability Coalition takes a more holistic approach which is unique in its field, and reaches across five different working groups and a unique data portal built by eqtble, to connect all pieces of the DEI puzzle.

In response, in March, we brought together tech leaders from companies like Uber, Snap, AirBnb, and Micron to talk candidly about the current state of DEI practices and discuss how we can better align to make progress, increase accountability, and build greater cohesion around delivering change. With inputs and direction from various tech leaders, we’ve worked to create the first-ever Equity Framework, which lays out common sense standards for how to best define terms, collect data, and create a practical roadmap for improvement across the industry. The launch of this Framework is the beginning of building accountability and seeing tech companies come to the table to champion equity industry-wide. It also encapsulates a founding tenet of our work: Innovation for all. By all.

Making the tech industry more inclusive requires a systemic response to a systemic problem. That’s why we’re working with a wide range of tech company staff, industry stakeholders, and key thought leaders on tech equity to bring participants together, share key findings, and work to create a platform that unifies responses. We believe that this approach concretely moves an entire industry from being reactive to proactive in the DEI space. Now is the time for radical and sustainable change, and if you join us, we can arrive at the future we all deserve faster.

Shijuade Kadree joined the Aspen Institute in 2023 as the Director of Tech Equity and the Tech Accountability Coalition. An alumna of Emory University, Shijuade graduated with a joint degree from the Schools of Law and Public Health.