America at work
Tech isn’t just for the boys: How Atlanta is rebooting diversity
Takara Small | August 15, 2016

The tech industry is no longer just a boy’s club. For years the industry has been lambasted (for good reason) over its lack of diversity and gender discrimination. For instance, a recent diversity report interviewed over 200 women in tech and found that 47 percent have been asked to do lower-level tasks (e.g., note-taking, ordering food, etc.) that male colleagues were not asked to do while 66 percent of women felt left out from important networking events because of their gender.

But the tide seems to be turning, and one place you can see this happening is in burgeoning tech hubs like Atlanta. The city’s diverse demographics make the metropolis the perfect place to promote diversity. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the country, industry advocates and concentrated efforts by a few companies—such as Slack and the Magic Johnson-backed recruiting firm Jopwell—are working behind the scenes to change the face of tech, recognizing the growing importance in the startup economy.

“Although it would be nice to think the tech world is simply a meritocracy, that would be naïve,” says Karen Houghton, the director of Atlanta Tech Village, one of the city’s biggest tech innovation centers and diversity advocate. “The tech world is dominated by men, and that automatically creates unique challenges for women. It can be harder to get meetings and score pitches, and there are wide reports of VCs [venture capitalists] being closed to women.”

Many of Atlanta’s local groups are stepping up to help fund or launch women-led startups, helping to fill the gap in support or access to capital for early stage businesses. Given the inherent bias women face in the field, women supporting each other to create their own projects seems to be a natural way forward.

Changing the startup-up culture itself is another way to create lasting change and that includes teaching a new generation of women to code, says tech entrepreneur Kelly Marble.

Marble is one of Atlanta’s tech educators dedicated to fixing the gender gap. As the programming manger at The Loft, an internship program for girls, she plans local events for the area’s eager minds. The company hosts weekend workshops and summer camps for middle school girls to teach them how to code and build apps.

“The focus is making girls powerful and developing future women leaders through our entrepreneurship programs,” says Marble. “We want to change the way girls use technology and create social good. We teach girls to use their voice to solve problems and share their mission through social media–to share what they care about.”

Things are changing, albeit slowly. The recent news cycle is ripe with examples of how women are now finally being heralded for their tech work. Just recently messaging service Slack was heralded online for having its four black female engineers accept an award for best new startup. In Atlanta, it’s even more obvious with local venture firms, like Valor Ventures, setting up women-only capital funds. The city is also committed to helping women and set up a new program—the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative—that will help women entrepreneurs who suffer from lack of community support or funding to actually succeed.

Companies like Intel, Dropbox and other big names are also publicly disclosing their diversity statistics—which in the secretive world of tech is not only a call to action, but also a challenge for others to do the same.

“Any woman in a male-dominated industry has to face a minefield of nuances and stereotypes that are unfair if all things were truly created equal,” says Houghton about the rise of women in the city’s tech scene and overall industry. “They are in it to win it and make their mark. I am confident that we will see more and more large exits and big successes by strong women in the startup world. And I look forward to it.”