November 08, 2012, 2:37 PM — That was one of the messages of a panel of Washington tech insiders speaking at a conference organized as part of D.C. Week, a series of events focused on the technology scene here in the nation's capital. Despite the flowering of the social Web, mobile apps and all manner of chic new technologies, IT, as a profession, is still widely viewed as profoundly unhip.
"I think that in general diversity's important because, you know, putting race aside, gender aside, it's diversity of thought. And you need experiences," says Christine Celise Johnson, founder of IamDTech (short for: "I Am Diversity in Tech"), a group working to expand the role of underrepresented groups in the tech startup scene. "And there are opportunities with reaching out to communities that aren't already an active part of this new economy and this space."
Johnson explains that much of her work focuses on outreach to communities that typically don't intersect with the tech world. Through projects such as the "app-a-thon" she helped lead this summer in Anacostia, one of Washington's poorer neighborhoods, her group is trying to spread the word and generate excitement about the opportunities in the District's burgeoning startup scene.
"I think it's all about exposure," she says. "You would be surprised about how many individuals do not know about the D.C. tech ecosystem."
The Business of IT Diversity
On the business side, some panelists suggested that diversity, as a stated goal, is fading from the agenda of many young startups, owing in part to a generational transition. Joe Corbett, COO of the digital agency iStrategy Labs, explains that many young entrepreneurs are focused foremost on attracting top talent--not in itself a bad strategy, but one that falls short if they only recruit from within their own communities.
"If we're not including everyone, you're only going to get the best talent from that certain subset that you're interacting with every day," Corbett says.
"This isn't something we think about usually, and the reason why is it never occurs to me to say, 'Oh, we need more women, or we need more people of color--I don't even know if I'm supposed to say that!'" he adds.