Capital Factory’s Women in Tech Summit Examined Ways to Improve Austin’s Tech Industry

The first panel discussion at Capital Factory’s Women in Tech Summit featuring Mellie Price, director of innovation at Dell, Karen Quintos, Chief Customer Officer at Dell, Tina Weyand, Chief Product Officer at HomeAway and Blake Garrett, Founder and CEO of Aceable.

By LAURA LOREK
Publisher of Silicon Hills News

The technology industry has a problem.

Its workforce isn’t diverse enough. That means not enough women and not enough people of color, but it also means not enough people of varying ages, faith, sexual orientation, disabled, military veterans and other differentiators.

Why is that important? Because studies have shown that not only do diverse workplaces make people happier, but they also provide greater financial results for companies.

On Wednesday, more than 500 people RSVPed to attend Capital Factory’s Women in Tech Summit, which featured a series of panel discussions and talks about the lack of a diversity in Austin’s technology industry, a lack of funding and some of the unique problems women face when launching a venture.

It also included some attempts to address the problem by signing the Walker Rule, a diversity pledge to interview at least one female candidate or person of color for a top executive position at an Austin technology company or venture capital firm. The pledge is named after Sarah Breedlove, known as Madam C.J. Walker, who was an African American entrepreneur who became a self-made millionaire. Stephen Straus, a co-founder of Austin Ventures, came up with the Walker Rule to address Austin’s diversity problem.

Another solution put forth by Dr. Colette Burnette, president of Huston-Tillotson University, is that companies need to be intentional about looking for diverse candidates to fill their positions. It’s a cop out to say that they don’t exist, she said. Huston-Tillotson, a private historically black university, graduates hundreds of students every year looking for jobs in the technology industry, she said.

Mellie Price, a successful female entrepreneur, Capital Factory mentor and now executive director of technology innovation at the Dell Medical School, also suggested unconscious bias training for people in the tech industry. Harvard provides free unconscious bias tests through Project Implicit, an online site. Other companies specialize in training employees to identify and deal with their unconscious bias in the workplace.

In the first panel discussion, moderated by Price, the conversation focused on what established companies like HomeAway and Dell are doing to foster diversity as well as a startup, Aceable, which started out at Capital Factory.

Diversity must be integrated into an organization and can’t be kept on an island, said Karen Quintos, executive vice president and Chief Customer Officer at Dell.

Dell has a team of 12 people that run diversity for Dell for 140,000 employees, she said.

The conversations that are happening now are more optimistic than ever because more men are joining the conversation, Quintos said.

“Listen, you’re not going to solve diversity by having a bunch of women’s events,” Quintos said. “You’ve got to have men be part of driving the progress. When more men are talking about it you’ll see more progress.”

This is hard, Price said.

“And that’s just the nature of diversity work,” she said.

Capital Factory has dedicated the month of September to women and making sure to have content tailored to them as well as including them on panels and in important events. But Price said she had mixed feelings about that. Because designating one month for women might mean that the other 11 months women aren’t a priority. Diversity needs to be integrated into the everyday fabric of the technology industry, she said.

“We started with a focus on diversity,” said Blake Garrett, CEO, and founder of Aceable, an online driver’s education and mobile education company, which has more than 45 female employees.

“When you have a diverse five people to start with it just creates more diversity along the way,” he said.

Aceable is now focused on recruiting more people of color, Garrett said.

“We need more blacks and I want more blacks at Aceable and it’s not easy to recruit,” Garrett said.

To create a diverse workforce, CEOS need to be aware of what their teams look like, Garrett said. It takes effort and purpose, he said.

In the next five years, Quintos said she would like to see leadership teams at multiple levels looking like Dell’s customer base. That means not just diversity in gender and ethnicity, it also means age, and not just millennials but older consumers, she said.

Diversity also includes military veterans, said Tina Weyand, Chief Product Officer with HomeAway.

HomeAway has a huge focus on fostering a diverse workforce, Weyand said. It is also focused on providing a safe workplace for people with diverse backgrounds, she said. HomeAway also has a big intern program to bring a variety of potential employees into its workplace, she said. Intern programs are some of the best ways to demonstrate your company is welcoming, she said.

Capital Factory is a premier incubator and changing the perception around the technology industry is extremely important, Quintos said.

Dell is doing a lot of things around feeding the pipeline for young women and minorities to get interested in the technology industry early on. Dell is supporting organizations dedicated to fostering Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math in middle school and high school so people want to get into tech, Quintos said.

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