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By Aida Rivas

I just returned from Open Source Summit in Vancouver, Canada, which brings developers, community and business leaders, software architects and sysadmins from across the globe together to engage in a wide range of topics such as emerging technologies, open source leadership, program office management and diversity and empowerment.

The diversity and empowerment track’s objective is to encourage diversity of perspectives and experiences in the open source community to create richer solutions. The tech landscape and open source community faces a challenge: dominated by a young (20 – 40), generally male point of view (80 – 90% depending on your source), design and development is at risk of missing opportunities and lacking the speed necessary for resolving business/world/technology challenges without diverse perspectives. The Why Diversity Matters report has been raising awareness of the business case for diversity and inclusion (D&I) and in the latest report, Delivering through Diversity, findings indicate that companies with gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies lacking this gender diversity. Furthermore, companies with ethnic/cultural diversity were 33% more likely to outperform on profitability.

Van Jones, the keynote speaker at Open Source Summit North America, perfectly framed that point of view. Jones, a news commentator and co-founder of Dream Corps, a “social justice accelerator” operating the #YesWeCode advocacy initiative, spoke emphatically about the power of diversity. His organization taps into a diversity pipeline in Silicon Valley which introduces low-opportunity, job-focused young people to careers in technology and surgically matches them with the specific hiring needs of a company. DreamCorps and #YesWeCode are diversity and inclusion in action. Energized by Jones, I sent an email to DreamCorps seeking information so that VMware can leverage this hiring pipeline and increase the diversity of our workforce while continuing to “deliver transformative IT solutions by harnessing the power of human difference.”

As the conference kicked off, I immersed myself in the diversity & empowerment track, aspiring to understand how to be more embracing of diverse perspectives. These sessions identified two simple actions for demonstrating inclusivity and building diversity:

  1. Ensure your presentation slides always include quotes and images from women or other underrepresented groups to start normalizing their representation because if you can’t see it, you can’t visualize it.
  2. Speaking out (respectfully) when you hear unkind remarks or see disrespectful actions toward underrepresented groups for the voice of allies is powerful.
diversity and inclusion

Sitting through the diversity and inclusion discussions, I recalled my college days and early career, realizing the important role allies and mentors play. Though my college cohort of computer science graduates included many females, in my first job as a software engineer, I found myself the only female in my department. Fortunately, my manager took the time to mentor me. I quickly learned that most of the technical design discussions took place at the local bar, so I got out of my comfort zone and joined the guys. I found it quite invigorating to be part of the team, problem-solving on cocktail napkins while drinking my non-alcoholic beverage. Though I was young, I was quite aware that as the only female in the group, I needed to leave before the ‘professional’ tone vanished.

As this company grew, I benefited from a variety of female leaders: some with non-computer science degrees or engineering backgrounds but with tremendous business experience, great system design, coding and testing abilities. Thanks to these strong allies, mentors and role models, I successfully navigated a world that did not look like me.

With today’s extraordinary demand for technical skills, it doesn’t make sense for companies to overlook talent because they don’t fit a certain pattern – be it age-based, gender-based or culture-based. But to change a homogenous team into a welcoming, diverse one requires more allies, mentors and role models. Companies also need to change their recruiting and hiring patterns. One such example of change includes companies hiring experienced candidates without four-year college degrees. And thanks to my outreach, VMware is now interested in exploring talent from DreamCorps.

So, how can we each help move the needle on diversity and inclusion? My approach has been to see things from a different, underrepresented group’s perspective so I can be more empathetic. We don’t have to wait for company policies to change; we can all be better listeners, we can all become more aware of our unconscious bias, we can each challenge ourselves and get out of our comfort zones and understand the perspective of one underrepresented group. We can all be allies, mentors and role models for diversity. As we go through this process, we connect with individuals, and this connection reduces isolation and increases inner happiness.

As Aine Lyons, VP Deputy General Counsel, Legal Operations and Executive Sponsor for VMinclusion says, “Uniqueness + Belongingness = Inclusion.”

Stay tuned to the Open Source Blog for more on cultivating a more diverse open source community and be sure to follow us on Twitter (@vmwopensource) as well.

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