High-profile women in tech push diversity with Project Include

Founders include former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao and employees from Slack and Pinterest.

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Devindra Hardawar
May 3, 2016 5:16 PM
Noah Berger/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Noah Berger/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Take a look at the diversity statistics from many tech companies, as we did with our 2015 Diversity Report Card, and you'll notice a consistent issue. The tech industry, for all of its meritocratic grandstanding, has a big inclusion problem -- and many companies are only now beginning to take that seriously. Now several women with significant clout in the tech world are launching Project Include, a non-profit that aims to tackle the diversity dilemma in tech with -- you guessed it -- data.

"Though startups are making an effort to implement diversity improvement strategies, the reality is that most are taking limited, potentially harmful actions, including one-off training, blaming the pipeline, using language like 'lowering the bar' and describing the current state of the tech industry as a 'meritocracy,'" wrote Project Include co-founder Ellen Pao, the former Reddit CEO who was also embroiled in a gender discrimination lawsuit with VC firm Kleiner Perkins. "Unfortunately, we have seen tech culture become even more exclusive and less diverse over the last five years."

The non-profit's other co-founders include Erica Joy Baker, a senior engineer at Slack; Tracy Chou, a software engineer at Pinterest; Laura I. Gomez, CEO of Atipica, which helps companies hire more diverse employees; bethanye McKinney Blount, CEO of Cathy Labs; Y-Vonne Hutchinson, founder of ReadySet, which works on diversity solutions; Freada Kapor Klein, a partner at Kapor Capital and the Kapor Center for Social Impact; and entrepreneur and investor Susan Wu.

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All of the co-founders have worked on solving inclusion issues on their own, but Project Include will serve as a more concentrated effort. The organization aims to help technology companies deal with their diversity problems by offering recommendations on best practices, research and tools. Most importantly, it'll serve as a way to collect data around those diversity efforts and share them with the wider tech community.

Pao says Project Include is currently focusing on CEOs and managers in early and mid-stage startups. The idea is that it's far easier to implement strategies for inclusion early, rather than trying to shift the mindset of a large and established company.

"We want CEOs to use Project Include as a resource for creating meaningful solutions and to tailor our recommendations to their startups and situations," Pao wrote. "We want executives and managers to understand that diversity and inclusion is a company-wide effort driven from the top down to every employee: If a CEO isn't invested in the success of D&I, these programs will not succeed."

A single organization focused on diversity initiatives could be a good thing for the tech world -- it gives companies a resource to guide their own efforts. And with constant gaffes around inclusion happening today, like Twitter hiring a white dude as its head of diversity, the tech community needs all the help it can get.

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