As a resident of North Philadelphia, I know all too well what it feels like to live in a community that is often overlooked and taken advantage of. When I ride the bus to visit my grandmother in the Allegheny neighborhood, it feels like I'm traveling to a different city compared to what I experience day-to-day as executive director of Philly Startup Leaders. It's clear to me that there is a strong disconnect between Philly's growing tech community and the rest of the city.
Seemingly endless news stories have illustrated the tech industry's overall lack of diversity.
Without true diversity — racial, gender, economic, and more — equity and inclusion can't exist. And more alarming, without diversity, issues of equity and inclusion can't begin to even be addressed.
While some tech companies make a big show of putting resources towards diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) or paying lip service to equitable hiring practices, data show that there is a critical need to do better.
Historically and currently, people in underserved communities have not had access to resources to support their ideas, families, and life trajectories. Systemic inequities only serve to maintain the status quo.
We can't resolve these enormous issues on a national level by tomorrow, but in Philly, tech leaders — and all business leaders — can combat these issues by taking action every day.
Where to start? Empathy.
Having the ability to understand someone and their feelings is powerful. To step outside of your bubble (or privilege) and see the world from another's perspective takes patience, unconventional thinking, and resources.
Before joining Philly Startup Leaders, I was part of the startup behind Indego, Philly's bike-share system, where I led marketing and DEI. A top priority for us was to bring bikes into underserved communities. To do this, we had to have many difficult conversations.
In the years since, Indego has become as a model for bike-share equity — and that wouldn't have been possible without empathetic listening.
We didn't achieve this success overnight. There were times when communities were in an uproar about new bike racks coming into their neighborhood, seeing it as a sign of gentrification. There were internal missteps where we didn't understand all perspectives before making decisions. We also had to navigate the challenges of building something unheard of in the bike-share industry.
It took a lot of mistakes, listening to the community, and learning from and incorporating their feedback on our quest to change the makeup of bike riders in the city of Philadelphia. This work was challenging, but it forced us to listen to understand and not just listen to respond.
There will probably never be a day when we can declare that we've achieved diversity, equity, and inclusion for all. It's an ongoing process. But we must work harder to keep all communities in mind when advancing technology and economic opportunities.
Here are some ideas for how leaders can be more intentional in this work:
As novelist James Baldwin said, "We've got to be as clear-headed about human beings as possible because we are still each other's only hope." We are all better when the playing field is equal.