She was usually the only black woman in the room, so she created her own company to change that.
Success in the tech industry isn’t new to Melissa James.
The office-manager-turned-CEO of The Tech Connection helped grow her former team at Sample6 Technologies from a handful of techies to 25 people in just two years. She did all kinds of work, including ciphering through data and metrics, and finding the best and brightest applicants. This is where she started to notice an unfortunate trend, which she decided to conquer by founding her own startup.
When she started her career in tech, James was often the only black person — and the only woman — in the room.
“When people hear the word 'diversity,' they tend to immediately think of race,” James said. “It’s more about the diversity of thought. You want a multitude of backgrounds representing your team, and that currently isn’t the case in most tech offices.”
Now, James is creating a software system to help companies "hire blindly."
Here’s how it works: According to James, many hiring managers see a name and instantly get an idea of who that person is and what their background means. James’ program removes the candidate’s name from the resume. It also removes where they went to school and their current location. Those details are replaced with their core skill set, where they’ve worked in the past, and the character strengths they bring to the table. This, she believes, will help increase hiring diversity for these companies.
While her product is limited to the tech world right now, she's working to ensure that the software won’t just be a product initiative. Instead, she hopes it'll also introduce a necessary dialogue about increasing workplace diversity.
James’ diversity concerns are echoed pretty much everywhere in the tech industry.
Just last year, Apple came under fire for the lack of diversity on its leadership board. White men made up 72% of all leaders. Today, 28% of Apple's leaderships roles are held by women, 6% by Latinos, and just 3% by black leaders. Yikes.
Apple isn’t the only company struggling with diversity issues, though. Just about every major tech company in America, from Google to Facebook, is struggling to find the balance between men and women in the workforce. And the gap only gets larger as you climb higher up the leadership ladder.
Gay and transgender employees still make up about 6% of the workforce for federal, state, and local jobs, and workers with disabilities still struggle to find gainful employment, too.
When we remove opportunities to create and use stereotypes, we open ourselves up to lots of choices.
James' software is a push in the right direction, but it certainly isn't the only step we need for bringing diversity to every workplace.
Thankfully, lots of companies are working on this problem. Just last year, DiversityInc recognized companies including AT&T, Procter & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson as leaders for increasing diversity. Apple declared a commitment to increase diversity in their offices, and "Saturday Night Live" added Sasheer Zamata to the cast after comments from cast member Kenan Thompson led to an outcry from viewers about the lack of initiatives to increase diversity. The methods vary in all of these cases, but it's clear that in all industries, the need for change has been made apparent.
“Diversity is like rice,” James said. "It’s a staple that’s cooked differently in every different household, and each version is delicious in its own way. We have to have that diversity in culture, ideas, and thoughts. Diversity is not limited to race, and when we tap into various community backgrounds when looking for talent, we inevitably find produce something greater.”
That sounds like a pot of goodness we can all enjoy.