Gen - Z, Diversity, & the Future of Tech Innovation

Monica Eaton-Cardone, Co-Founder & COO, Chargebacks911A diverse group of people is one of a business’s best resources for innovation. This is a problem for the tech industry; despite a reliance on disruption and innovation, tech has well- publicized issues in this department, especially when it comes to promoting gender diversity. It looks like that may soon change, though. Gen-Zers are now beginning to take their place at the table, and they’re ushering-in a new and more varied group of perspectives in the process.

What's the Value of Diversity?
Innovation is the life blood of tech-related fields, but innovative thinking is much less likely when every one in the room comes from the same background and shares similar experiences. While the ‘business as usual’ approach might have passed for a while, the realities of technological disruption demand that organizations be as agile as possible. That means being dynamic and embracing new perspectives from different backgrounds is essential for growth.

Bringing together a range of different perspectives creates the opportunity for people to think differently and brainstorm new ideas. It encourages outside opinions and subverts the ‘group think’ mentality. Most importantly, a diverse group of people engaged in the creative and development process will better reflect the customers they’re trying to reach. A more representative team of people will possess deeper insight into their audience on a practical level, as well as a cultural and emotional one. They can better understand what’s important to people, and address those needs more efficiently and effectively.

Diversity Remains Elusive, but Not for Long
Even though the value in having a broad range of perspectives is clear, gender diversity continues to be a sticking point in many tech fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests women fill roughly a quarter of tech positions in the US, and only 15 percent in engineering. That's a substantial decline from 35 percent in 1990, meaning we’ve actually lost ground over the last few decades. Fortunately, that trend is starting to reverse.

The oldest members of Gen-Z are about to enter college, and we're seeing signs of growing interest in STEM related fields among those women and their younger peers. For example:

• Girls in U.S. primary schools are taking advanced science and math courses at the same rate as male counterparts.
• Eighth grade girls and boys demonstrate roughly equal degrees of technology and engineering literacy.
• Schools like UC Berkeley and Harvey Mudd College have made significant progress toward gender parity in STEM over the last decade.

It makes sense that we would see this. Members of Gen-Z, the post Millennial kids born after the turn of the 21st century, have been exposed to technology their entire lives. These are the first true 'digital natives'; they’ve grown up with information technology, and so they are less intimidated by it.

Young women are interested in technology, and they want to make the world a better place by channeling their skills for good

Parents & Educators Nurture Kids' Interests
That’s great progress, but being a digital native still only goes so far. It takes the cooperation of parents, educators, and business leaders to inspire a true passion for technology related fields. Parents can often be the first ones to identify children interested in science and engineering. It’s important that they encourage children to embrace that interest to take things apart, solve puzzles, ask questions, and keep looking for new solutions. This is the foundation of a lifelong passion for technology and creative thinking.

Similarly, educators need to nurture and encourage girls to explore STEM fields and embrace their aptitude for the subject. Let them know about the wealth of opportunities that go along with careers demanding specialized STEM knowledge. These fields tend to promise a higher earning potential and significantly greater pay equity compared to non-STEM opportunities.

Mentorship is Essential
Of course, getting Gen-Z interested in technology and math at a young age is just half the battle. Even as girls embrace STEM education, they still face the challenge of navigating an industry that tended toward homogeneity for decades.

Individuals who find success in tech can help encourage the next generation who will keep pushing the industry forward. As a leader in the industry, one person can have a big impact if she chooses to get involved on a more personal level to help mentor the next generation of female tech leaders. Serving as a role model for young people is the best way to keep the passion for learning and creating alive.

Remember, this isn’t about entitlement, though. We need to teach young women that once they gain a foothold, always step up and take credit for their work and be active in promoting themselves. Tech is highly competitive, so if you’re not willing to step-up and take what’s owed to you, it won’t come.

With employers facing shortages of qualified candidates, the best way to ensure a strong pool of talent is to play a role in creating it. Employers and other tech leaders can help by investing in STEM education. Scholarships and grants for young women in tech, coding camps, supplementary programs for general science and engineering education these are all great ways to help strengthen tomorrow’s workforce.

This is an investment in the industry; a stronger and more dynamic pool of candidates means a stronger, more dynamic business. Recruits with the skills and the drive to achieve more will create value for the company, which will facilitate the kind of pay and benefits that attract top talent. It’s a symbiotic relationship: the more you invest in strengthening tech candidates, the more they invest in making the business stronger.

Young women are interested in technology, and they want to make the world a better place by channeling their skills for good.I firmly believe that they can do it, but they will need some help along the way.