Inclusive Innovation Week sets Pittsburgh apart among tech cities

Liam McFadden | Staff Illustrator

While it may be impossible for Pittsburgh to ever fully shake its infamous Steel City nickname, the city is taking strides to become something different.

After the post-1980 decline in the steel industry, Pittsburgh became a city better known for its medical and educational opportunities through universities and hospitals. Recently, national media outlets and city leaders have tossed around a new nickname for Pittsburgh that highlights its turn to innovation and technology: Silicon Valley East.

But unlike the California town and other tech cities around the nation, Pittsburgh is — at least for now — making moves to involve everyone in the tech revolution.

Friday marks the beginning of Pittsburgh’s second Inclusive Innovation Week, a city-wide initiative aimed at increasing equality and representation of minorities in the growing technology sector. As the nation and the world are becoming increasingly dependant on new technology, Pittsburgh’s conscious effort to ensure its own technological boom is inclusive is admirable.

Pittsburgh hosted the same event in 2016 after Mayor Peduto launched his Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation in September 2015. This year’s week will be even more large-scale than the previous one with more than 60 events taking place throughout the city over nine days. Programs include coding classes, open houses to tech businesses around the city and panels with minority leaders in technology.

“To be truly successful, Pittsburgh’s technology boom has to be accessible for all,” Peduto said in the 2015 release detailing the roadmap. “This plan will enable us to be a model for cities around the country in providing equitable services and opportunities for residents and businesses in every neighborhood citywide.”

The lack of diversity in tech is such a large problem today that a story about women in Silicon Valley made the cover of The Atlantic’s April edition. The piece, titled “Why is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” explored how, despite the millions of dollars tech companies have invested in improving tech life for women, little has changed in the industry. The reporter Liza Mundy found that in addition to the low numbers of women in tech, female workers also leave the industry at twice the rate of their male counterparts — mostly due to sexual harassment, employees that constantly question their authority and the pervasive sexism of the internet.

Issues of diversity, representation and inclusion are already deeply ingrained in the tech sector, and it’s better to be cognizant of those problems while developing an industry than to try and address them later on. Only 30 percent of the workers at the nation’s top technology firms are women. Only seven percent of that workforce is black, with women of color making up just 3 percent, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

What is obvious from those statistics is just how white and male the tech field is. Uber released statistics about the makeup of its workforce earlier this week that made its lack of diversity and inclusion painfully clear. Of its 12,000 person global workforce, 64 percent are male. And of the larger positions of leadership in the company, men hold 78 percent of them. In its U.S. workforce, 50 percent of total workers and 77 percent of its leadership roles are white. Meanwhile, the most diverse field in the company in terms of race and gender are the lower-ranking customer support team positions.

A 2016 McKinsey study found that even though 91 percent of female students were aware of computer science as a field, only 44 percent said they were willing to try it. Similarly, only 53 percent of black and 54 percent of Hispanic students likewise said they were willing to try. Hosting local community events provides an easy and affordable way for young people to get involved and interested in technology and innovation.

Uber and other industry powerhouses including Google, Apple and Pinterest have announced efforts to increase minority representation in their companies. A good sign for sure, even if it’s slow moving. But the fact that they’re backtracking to do it now instead of having a diverse workforce to begin with highlights the need for programs like an Inclusive Innovation Week in the first place.

If we want a fair representation of minorities in tech companies, especially in high-ranking and leadership positions, then we need to start by making technology and innovation open to them as young people — and encouraging people of color, women and people with disabilities to pursue those opportunities.

The events this week can help them do just that. There will be a class on computer and technology refurbishing, a “crafternoon” where elementary students can build, make and design their own products and projects, as well as a tour and demo of CMU’s Robotics Institute. In addition, there will be a women in technology panel, an inclusion and importance of intersectionality lecture, a women in investing presentation and a brunch event for black entrepreneurs and minority small business owners around the city.

Pittsburgh may not be the first U.S. city to embrace the technology boom, but if it continues its commitment to creating a diverse tech workforce and leadership, it could become one of the country’s most prominent tech cities.

Perhaps living up to and even surpassing its newest nickname.

Amber is the Opinions Editor at The Pitt News. She primarily writes about gender and local politics.

Write to Amber at aem98@pitt.edu.

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