Gender, race, and the German tech divide

In the last 20 years, the tech industry has grown exponentially with no signs of slowing. And yet, as tech expands into the lives of everyone, the demographics of its makers and shapers are represented by a narrow few. There is a great imbalance in representation between those who create technology and those who use it, with disproportionately low percentages of women; a lack of cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity; and a strong bias privileging degree graduates of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. 

Campus 10178 is highlighting projects that are working to bridge the gap in diversity and promote equity and inclusion. For its 10th episode “Gender, race, and the German tech divide,” Dr. Nakeema Stefflbauer, founder of the non-profit programming school FrauenLoop and the professional network Tech in Color, was invited to share her expertise and insights on diversity in Germany’s tech scene. 

The far reach of tech 

Tech is global. Tech should be global. Tech becoming more global is something good for your business and your company, because it enables you as a business or company to expand to the globe and know how to engage with people who are potential customers. 

From streamlining systems to transforming communication, the tech industry has profoundly affected both international businesses and personal livelihoods. The inherent innovation and versatility have proven an unprecedented ability to shape culture and society. Accelerated production, viral information wildfires, and instantaneous connectivity to people, places, and things (or consumers, markets, and products) are just a few ways industry has excelled.

Akin to the industry’s versatility and innovation is its ubiquitous demand. Both in the high number of positions and its increasing “borderlessness,” working in tech provides opportunities of mobility and flexibility that reflect innovation in the workplace. Evident in its vibrant freelance culture and remote-friendliness, the industry boasts the privilege of movement to its repertoire of benefits, decentering the sedentary office setting long before the pandemic. 

A lack of diversity 

But then also realizing that I was connecting with people who were just desperate for acknowledgement of their ambitions, of their positions, and of what they’d lost. You know, and because of the stigma that goes along with seeking asylum – immigrating generally. 

If tech can be developed anywhere and thrive off innovation for its global markets, then the lacunae of diverse perspectives and contributions is both concerning and contradictory. In the long run, it risks reproducing corporate rigidity and exclusivity when technology needs to be dynamic and inclusive. 

According to Dr. Stefflbauer, the uniformity in representation of tech leaders “… [creates] a huge gap between the kinds of people who can access [tech] jobs and those companies, and that industry …” Referring to her experience at Refugee on Rails, a community organization that supports people with refugee backgrounds with tech skills, she alludes to structural blockades that stigmatize qualified and eager candidates.  

But then also realizing that I was connecting with people who were just desperate for acknowledgement of their ambitions, of their positions, and of what they’d lost. You know, and because of the stigma that goes along with seeking asylum – immigrating generally. 

The intent for impact 

Today, the biases that favor a certain cultural and social profile stifles another type of mobility often overlooked: social mobility. The industry has the potential to drive impactful change by providing real opportunities for self-empowerment, financial stability, and job satisfaction built upon tech skill sets that make the rest possible. The explosive growth of the tech sector demands the supply that only a diverse pool of workers can bring – winning innovation, versatility, and inclusivity. In doing so, the sector can realize opportunities that, quite literally, break boundaries.  

The number of IT workers is not shrinking. We need people in this industry badly. And the idea that you have to be a certain level of training or you have to have a certain kind of background in order to even start to work in the tech industry is deeply harmful. It doesn’t support the expansion of the industry or the economy or any of the things that I think depend very strongly on the attitude we take about who can participate.

Listen to a discussion with with Dr. Nakeem Stefflbauer via Campus 10178, the ESMT Berlin podcast.

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