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Why Technology Needs Latinas

posted May 29, 2014, 2:44 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated May 29, 2014, 8:25 PM ]
In late May 2014, Google released its diversity report. As expected, the numbers were not good. Google's technical workforce, worldwide, is 30% women. In the United States, the numbers are 2% Black and 3% Hispanic. Few technology companies are bold enough to release their diversity numbers, and I applaud Google for doing this. I don't think the numbers are much different at other giant technology companies like Microsoft, Facebook, etc.

As an African American man who has worked as a technologist for 20 years, I was personally moved by the extremely low representation of Blacks at Google. However, I was also concerned about the low number of women, specifically, Hispanic women. I believe technology's extreme lack of overall diversity is a huge problem, but the consequences of ignoring Latina technology talent are extreme.

I firmly believe that the technology sector needs more Latinas both now and in the future. I believe this not only intellectually but also in my actions. Allow me to provide an example.

The South by Southwest Interactive Festival (called SXSW) is a massive technology conference in Austin, TX. There are few technology events that are as visible and covered by the media. Products like Twitter and Foursquare gained huge numbers of users and worldwide coverage at past SXSW conferences, and many technology products and services try to make their debut there. While going to SXSW is fun (because Austin turns into a giant tech demo city for a few days), it's even more fun to be a speaker at SXSW. I know because, before the 2014 conference this past March, I had been a speaker at SXSW in 2010, 2011, and 2012. To be a speaker at SXSW, you have to submit a panel proposal to the SXSW Advisory Board. They review it, but panel proposals can also receive votes from the public. So, getting selected to speak at SXSW requires a great panel proposal (hundreds are submitted every year and about one third are accepted) and the ability to get people to vote for your panel.

Most panels at SXSW feature more than one speaker, and I knew I wanted to do a dual presentation (i.e., with two presenters). In order to increase my chance of having my panel selected, I knew that picking a great co-presenter was very important. My co-presenter had to have the technology experience to be considered by the SXSW Advisory Board as an expert in the topic of the panel and also have a big enough social media presence to help me get votes. As I thought of the people I could ask to be a co-presenter, most of the people who had what I was looking for were white men. That's the reality of working in technology. Most of the people you meet are white men, and, therefore, those are the easiest people to think of when putting together a technology panel. However, I didn't want to take the easy way out. I was working on a book about minorities in technology (called Minority Tech and published last year), and a key message of my book is that technology needs more women and people of color. How could I betray my own book by taking the easy way out? So, I decided that I wanted a woman on my panel, and I then realized that I wanted to present with a qualified Latina technologist. That decision led me to Ana Karen Ramírez.

Screenshot with Ana Karen and Team
Picture of Ana Karen (lower left corner) on one of our daily video conference calls

I met Ana Karen while working on a work project. She was a member of a near shore team based in Guadalajara, Mexico, that my company hired to provide UX and UI design services for our software applications. Since my company is based in the Houston area, we collaborated daily via GoToMeeting video conferences. After working with Ana Karen for several weeks, I realized that she would make a great co-presenter at SXSW! Although she thought I was joking when I first asked her, she graciously accepted my offer to be my co-presenter. We finalized our proposal, asked for votes, and we were eventually selected to present at SXSW! Why did I choose Ana Karen? I chose her because she has the amazing qualities that Latinas offer the technology industry.

Latina Technologists are Bold

Being successful in technology requires challenging courses like computer science or technical design. Very few women try these male dominated degrees, and even fewer of those women are Latinas. So, the ones that do graduate have the boldness to obtain a degree where, in class after class, they are often the only women in the room, lab, building, etc. It takes a lot of courage to accomplish something that most people think should be left to men to do. In fact, you have to be a little bit crazy. But, what did Steve Jobs say about the crazy ones?

Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs probably didn't know it, but his quote perfectly describes what Latinas can bring to technology.

Latina Technologists are Decision Makers

Much has been written about the rapid population growth of Hispanics. Pew recently reported that the Hispanic population in the United States has increased by a factor of six since 1970. This represents not just a massive increase in the number of Hispanic people but also a massive increase in Hispanic households. And Latinas make most of the purchasing decisions in those households. According to a Nielsen report, whether its the food the family will eat, the clothes the children will wear, or the type of personal electronics everyone will carry, Latinas drive most of household decisions. This ability to make decisions positions Latinas as not just excellent technology professionals but also as technology leaders.

Latina Technologists are Fluent

Most Latinas are fluent in English as well as in Spanish, and this fluency is an invaluable asset. In 2013, for the first time in the United States, more non-white babies were born than white babies. The workforce of the future will be brown, and Latinas possess the ability to move between the languages of English and Spanish as the situation requires. This will be key to communicating with the workers of tomorrow. Americans typically value the ability to speak English, but, very soon, if you can't speak Spanish then you will have trouble communicating with the talent of tomorrow.

I was honored to have Ana Karen present my panel at SXSW, and technology companies need to realize why Latinas are so important. Their boldness, decisiveness, and fluency are vitally important to providing the innovation that drives technology.