How Diversity Makes Tech A Stronger Industry [PSFK 2014]

How Diversity Makes Tech A Stronger Industry [PSFK 2014]
Arts & Culture

Why diversity in leadership is the key to innovation and success.

Hilary Weaver
  • 2 june 2014

PSFK Managing Editor Dory Carr-Harris brought together Nikki Kauffman, Rachel SklarJohn Gerzma and Jessica Lawrence for a panel on how to achieve diversity in the workplace at PSFK Conference 2014.

The panel discussed the qualities of ideal leadership and how diversity can be attained for a better functioning workplace. This diversity starts with the understanding that the tech industry’s influence has expanded far beyond tech-related mediums.

Lawrence, executive director of New York Tech Meetup, says she has seen a shift in tech jobs that reaches people out to people outside of the tech industry.

“Over the last three years, the rate of growth of the tech industry has been tremendous,” she says. “New York Tech Meetup went from 15,000 to 40,000 members. That says something about the overall growth. Tech is no longer a vertical industry. It’s horizontal, cuts across every single industry.”

The problem, though, is this technology is not reaching the right audience. When there aren’t enough women in the workplace, the main audience is what Rachel Sklar, co-founder of, refers to as “a very specific type of white man.” She says that when the right people are in the boardroom to introduce to innovative technology and resources, that is when real change can happen.

“I can have the most impact where I can push talented, smart, ambitious women and minorities in this sphere,”  she says.


Kauffman, Cultural Advisor to Quirky, says the company finds inclusivity and diversity through reaching out to people whose best ideas come from the living room and beyond the boardroom.

“We’re trying to make the people who come up with the ideas the heroes,” Kauffman says. “Whether you’re someone who sketched an idea on a notepad, we try to make anyone make their idea become reality.”

John Gerzma, author of the Athena Doctrine, notes that this inclusivity envisioned by Quirky is an indication that the argument goes beyond gender but rather the idea that everyone’s voices and ideas are heard.

“What’s interesting at this point is talking a little bit less about men versus women and talking about what’s going to make companies successful,” he says. “Diversity and inclusivity are really important but don’t always connect to the bottom line in the business world.”

Lawrence agrees with this point, saying that the necessary attributes of effective leadership all point to how someone is treated as a human being.

“It’s about making a workplace more humane, and if you make a workplace more humane, you end up attracting a much more diverse group of people, she says. “Every person thrives more when they’re given some autonomy, when they’re trusted with whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing.”


She says that when our society gets stuck in the idea that only certain need to be met for a niche of employees, such as women who need to take care of their children in the afternoons, it continues the stereotype that “women need one thing and men need something else.”

Gerzma says change can be achieved when we use different language to describe colleagues’ traits. What could be thought of as “soft qualities” that are predominantly associated with women. Gerzma says that just as women have “masculine qualities,” men posses a lot of “feminine qualities” that have a lot of value in today’s workplace.

“Everyone talks about soft skills,” he says. “Frame it in a different way and talk about if you really understand your customer and if you really understand the user experience. That’s empathy. Let’s talk about really difficult timelines and you need to work across geography with three or four different companies and you’ve got to do it under a compressed timeline. That’s collaboration, that’s candor, that’s sharing credit, that’s all those skills. So, we just need to reframe the way we talk about those things and connect them at the bottom line.”

Kauffman says transparency across all positions in the workplace is essential to successful collaboration. When everyone with different levels of expertise are able to freely communicate, inclusivity of each person’s abilities will be a natural process.

“Anyone can ask anything or know anything,” she says. “If you’re curious about what an engineer is working on or what a designer is working on, you can ask. I think that type of collaboration and openness can really help foster these different things and different types of diversity of women in all sorts of work environments.”

Lawrence adds that employers often wrongly try to solve the inclusivity problem by addressing needs that might not apply to everyone on a team. She says she’s spoken to many hiring managers of start-up companies who say they provide a keg or a ping pong table in the office because that’s what other companies are offering. Lawrence says his “competitive advantage” factor often wins out over more important values, such as diversity.

“The piece that we’re missing is that the ping pong table is not your culture. Culture is your underlying values and your behaviors. Oftentimes, we see that you might have all the symbolic stuff, you probably have a list of values on the wall in the break room. But the actual behavior of the company is very mismatched with what you say your values are. And it’s that behavior that makes diversity challenging.”

Sklar comments that when it comes to creating a more ethnically and gender diverse workplace, effort without results doesn’t warrant success. When she gets feedback from event coordinators telling her they couldn’t find enough women to fill speaker slots at events, she finds this attitude to be one reflective of the change that needs to occur across the board.

I think trying is great,” she says. “Being aware is great. But you can’t say to the caterer, ‘Where’s the food?’ And they say, ‘Well, we really tried but Zabar’s screwed up the delivery.’ You have to make diversity as much of a priority as the catering.” Watch the panel in the video below.

@dory_carrharris // @nikkiLkaufman //  @rachelsklar // @johngerzema // @jessicalawrence


Click here to get updates on future PSFK conferences and salons.

Arts & Culture

Transformable Table Maximizes Utility In Small Spaces

Design & Architecture
Syndicated Yesterday

How Fashion Became All About Fonts

Why a new wave of designs have put typography front and center on your clothing

Retail Yesterday

GM And Audi Are Experimenting With Car Rentals In SF

The automakers are trying something new to capture the segment of urban dwellers who don't want to own a car


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Travel Yesterday

This Vertical Forest Hotel Will Improve The Air Around It

An architectural firm is creating a lush mountain lodging in China with so much greenery that it will actually clean the atmosphere

Related Expert

Rob Katcher

Mobile Payments

Europe Yesterday

This Company Believes Insects Can Provide Biofuel To Power Our Future

A Polish group is testing out a new factory concept that can provide a source of renewable energy, and even serve space missions

Technology Yesterday

Music Venue Caters To Virtual Reality Events

Boiler Room has launched the first VR hub for content creators to capture special footage for the masses

Gaming & Play Yesterday

Automated Chessboard Lets You Play Against Anyone In The World

Square Off is an AI-powered board that can move the pieces on its own


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed Yesterday

Creative Leadership Expert: Experiencing A Seismic Shift From Brand Loyalty To Interface Loyalty

Marc Shillum, founder of Chief Creative Office, explains why product designers must rethink the way they capture consumer attention

PSFK Labs october 25, 2016

The Keys For Exceptional Performance On And Off The Field

PSFK Labs' new report highlights five important insights for businesses to perform better than the competition

Technology Yesterday

Contraband Recorder Helps Those In Need Capture Captive Conversations

Designer Marianna Mezhibovkaya created the device to help prison inmates capture crucial evidence of abuse

Advertising Yesterday

A Compelling Brand Purpose Is Never Born In The Boardroom

Strategist and Designer Anna-Rae Morris shares why she believes all brands exist for a reason, and how Snapchat has upended our behavior

Fitness & Sport Yesterday

Editorial Roundtable: The Xs And Os Of Performance-Enhanced Sports

WHOOP, ShotTracker, Rithmio, PlaySight, STYR Labs, EverybodyFights and Lift / Next Level Floats explain that we're only at the iceberg's tip of performance enhancement

Retail Yesterday

Kodak’s Smartphone Is Inspired By A Retro Camera

Ektra is an Android phone with a powerful lens aimed at photographers

Sustainability Yesterday

Modern Home Created Entirely Out Of Modular Shipping Crates

A project in Ecuador used the ubiquitous material to design a spacious and industrial-chic house

Retail Yesterday

Retail Concept Offers Food Hall Inspired Space For Online Brands

The store will offer a lower cost way for internet entrepreneurs to try physical retailing

Advertising Yesterday

Disney Retells Beauty And The Beast On Snapchat

In a partnership with LACMA, the entertainment platform drew from over 130,000 works in the museum's collection

No search results found.