Texas Conference for Women panel talks culture of tech

Laura Zhang

By changing the makeup of the tech industry’s workforce, companies can create the same disruption that made Hulu and Netflix so successful, according to panelists from the Texas Conference for Women.

Emily Ramshaw, editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, moderated the panel on Tuesday, which discussed the changing dynamics of the tech industry.  

Currently, women hold 18 percent of computer science undergraduate degrees, 26 percent of computing jobs and 5 percent of leadership positions in the tech industry. If current projections hold, there will be 1.4 million positions in science fields by 2020, with just 3 percent filled by women. 

The workplace in tech companies reflects these percentages, according to panelist Carla Piñeyro Sublett, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Rackspace, a cloud computing service.

Sublett said she liked to create “Wizard of Oz” teams because innovation is born when teams are composed of people with varied specialties.

“I’ve always been the wild-card candidate,” Sublett said. “Pushing boundaries and pushing people is ultimately what you are going to be defined by, and in my instance, it was that I wasn’t conventional.” 

Tamara Fields, managing director at Accenture and a panelist, echoed these sentiments. While ascending in the tech world, she said she was discouraged when her coworkers didn’t look like her.

“Sometimes we talk ourselves out of this path and career because we automatically assume we’re not meant for it,” Fields said. “I was looking at partnership [at Accenture] at that time, and there was no person of color. I didn’t understand what my path could be when I saw no one who looked like me.” 

Fields said genders and minorities view the distinction between confidence and arrogance differently, which leads to unnecessary over-thinking. Releasing workforce statistics improves this negative self-talk and helps increase transparency and enact change, Fields said.  

Accenture was the first big consulting firm to release a detailed gender and ethnicity breakdown of its U.S. workforce, which Fields said caused a huge uproar in the tech industry.  

“If we’re serious about changing something, you can’t do that without accountability, and you can’t do accountability without the numbers,” Fields said. 

Another panelist was Gina Helfrich, co-founder of recruitHER, a women-owned recruiting and consulting firm focused on recruiting qualified candidates for multinational companies. She said recruitHER remains dedicated to helping other businesses further the mission of diversity in tech, which sometimes means refusing service to large, multinational corporations. 

“There were some large clients who could’ve made us a lot of money, but we said no because of their company culture,” Helfrich said. “To first-time entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas, telling certain companies that we’re not going to recruit for them was a challenge. It was a little scary to draw a line in the sand that way and hold it.”

As Rackspace’s chief marketing officer, Sublett said it is crucial for tech companies to accurately represent their consumer demographics.  

“As a marketer, I want to make sure we reflect our customers. I want to make sure our company embraces diversity in every sense of the word,” Sublett said. “The first day I walked in to work, it was a feast for the eyes: We had diversity of age and gender, of race and ethnicity, and of education and background. We were enriched in not only culture, but also in strategy.”

Ultimately, in light of the evolving face of the tech industry, change and interruption require being bold and uncomfortable, Fields said.

“If you’re not failing, you’re not taking enough risks,” Fields said. “And the world of technology is all about risk.”