As an Oakland based Tech Inclusion PR professional, there are few things more interesting than discovering clever ways founders of start ups are applying technology, especially if the founders are less likely to be found featured in, or having products reviewed on, pages of the most coveted tech outlets. This past weekend I attended the 2015 Tech Inclusion Conference, where the array of tech talent and innovation was so abundant it was impossible to connect with everyone. It was held at the Galvanize hub in San Francisco and organized by Wayne Sutton from BUILDUP, and Melinda Epler from Change Catalyst, who did a fantastic job and who are to be congratulated for their smart, efficient work and dedication to the tech diversity and inclusion cause.
I confess I had high expectations for this conference, based on the quality of the sponsors, the thoroughness of the agenda and the imposing résumés of the guest speakers. So I would have been let down if I’d been let down.
But in my 15 plus years working in and around the Silicon Valley environment, this was the best conference I’ve attended, bar none. The spirit of collegiality, creativity and openness to evolution that dominated the proceedings was highly encouraging and just in general a blast and an inspiration to be around. In fact, throughout the two-day event, the #techinclusion15 landed as one of Twitter's most highly trended events.
Estimates are that about 350 people attended and another 500 or so showed up for the associated career fair. Frank, stimulating discussions about inclusion issues in education, entrepreneurship, funding, the workplace environment and public/private policy were plentiful. Attendees got to rub elbows—and share ideas—with a virtual who’s-who of innovators in the tech industry and frontline leaders in the campaign for greater diversity. Among this group were dozens of talented women and African-American, Latino and Asian tech innovators representing exciting start-ups that richly deserve funding, recognition and moral support.
Inclusion can only emerge from inclusion, and conference organizers and presenters bent over backwards to guarantee that everyone was noticed and every perspective heard from. Race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender, age, ability and background were no factor here, and it was heartening to see no one left out.
And that included tech executives whose prime interest is the exact opposite of diversity for diversity’s sake. Viability, profitability, and maximum utility demand greater inclusion; voices excludes means stagnation and a too-narrow focus, everyone gets that and it’s awesome to see that decision-makers understand it, too. Inclusion is an incendiary fuel that sets off creative firestorms, and if the tech business is to continue adapting and growing it must be embraced as a systemic guiding principle and not as a futuristic ideal.
The best and the brightest are humble enough to realize no one has all the answers. But they know all voices must be involved in the conversation if we ever expect to find them.
Here are just a few of the creators I was lucky enough to meet at the conference:
Michael Hall, a tech entrepreneur and software architect from South Florida and the founder of Digital Glass, a social impact group and diversity accelerator who partners with companies led by African-Americans, Hispanics, women and members of the LGBTQ community.
Moran DeBaun, the creator of Blavity.com, one of America’s fastest-growing news outlets for black millennials.
David Capelli from TECH Miami, Inc., an inclusion specialist with big ideas about how to modernize the start-up infrastructure and the innovation ecosystem.
Pulak Mittal, a software programmer at the educational technology company Clever.com.
Carla Mays from Mays Civic Innovation of San Francisco, an inclusion-and-diversity expert with a large presence in the Silicon Valley innovation economy.
Diana Keels from Stemmed, which is transforming the way companies diversify the tech workforce through its career services and college recruitment platform.
These men and women are impressive for who they are but also for what they represent: a grassroots Tech Inclusion movement that is picking up steam and speeding up the progressive evolution of the tech industry.
I’m not aware of any special designation, but I wonder if September is fast becoming the de facto Tech Inclusion Awareness Month here in the San Francisco-Bay Area? Now with Tech Inclusion event established to happen each September month, and next Tuesday, Oakland is where the Association for Women in Science is hosting its own pro-inclusion extravaganza at the Marriott City Center in Oakland, it just may well be!