By Dana Zucker and Angelica Gustilo Ong
Start by googling “number of women in technology.”
You probably got results like: “The stats on women in tech are actually getting worse,” and “Women in tech: the numbers don’t add up”.
Disappointing —of course.
Now imagine that instead you saw: “3 out of 5 global innovation Unit leaders are women,” or “Cutting-edge venture fund project managed by women” and “ female technologists working on new ways to reduce inequalities for children”? Sounds good, doesn’t it
Though we didn’t pop up on your search (we used our capital to fund a new drone project instead of strengthening SEO, and yes, the project is indeed led by a female), this is reality for UNICEF’s Office of Innovation.
As Jeanne Hultquist, author The Case for Investing in Women, explains: “[With] more diverse team chemistry, you get more perspectives with a larger variety of options to consider, and more chances of having innovative solutions proposed.” We agree.
But gender is only one important diversity metric we care about; diversity of background — nationality and disciplinary — as well as diversity in how to approach and interpret the world, help us explore challenges and solutions from unique perspectives.
On any given day, turning a corner to enter our area, you’ll hear conversations like how to use Pokémon Go and weather data to predict the spread of diseases, or how to adapt a venture capital funding approach to invest in testing the viability of UAVs and blockchain for UNICEF’s development work.
These hallway discussions organically unearth new ideas, and have served as the foundation for programmes, products and technological solutions that facilitate UNICEF’s work for children. Our diversity has become the key to making these seemingly disconnected ideas become value-driven global solutions.
It’s not by accident that the UNICEF Innovation team includes a mixed bag of data scientists, drone experts, tech enthusiasts, design nerds, software engineers, and storytellers from various backgrounds, interests and schools of thought. Each team member carries with them their unique history sculpted from multifarious academic disciplines, professional specializations, personal interests, myriad titles, and multiple passports. This heterogeneous composition is akin to companies such as Google, who strongly believe in hiring beyond gender and ethnicity, employing philosophers, scientists, artists, and poets.
The makeup of this multidisciplinary, global team reflects findings from recent research. A McKinsey report called Diversity Matters, examined 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, the UK, Latin America and the U.S., and found that teams with the highest racial, ethnic and professional mix are 35% more likely to have financial returns. Gallup found that “companies with more diversity on staff have a 22% lower turnover rate, and if an organization has a more inclusive culture that embraces women, it’s easier to recruit a more diverse staff.”
On a Devex World interview, Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer for the United States, also expressed how governments, nongovernmental organizations, and aid agencies have been slow to incorporate technology. She suggests that in order to produce new innovations, we should get data and other technologists involved at the ground level and get them on our team.
On July 21, Chris Fabian moderated a panel at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations titled, “Breaking Boundaries: Diversity and Equality in Science, Technology, and Innovation,” where panelists highlighted how differences can drive innovation. One panelist, Dr. Lori Foster, highlighted research by Meredith Belbin, who “maintains that the most successful teams have a mix of traits and roles in order to function effectively. If everyone was inclined the same way, the team would lack the balance it needs to do its work well.”
This was the second event on diversity for UNICEF’s Office of Innovation. During the first UN Data Innovation Lab Workshop hosted at Singularity University, a ‘Diversity Panel’ came together with Data Science Managers, from Coursera and Airbnb, and a Project Manager from Google X. These technologists’ main message? Diversity = better business.
The biggest challenges that face the world are not going to be solved by one organization or one group of people in just one country. By bringing together views, opinions, and experiences from different backgrounds, we learn from each other’s successes and failures. We challenge each other’s ideas and approaches, and we create a sum greater than its parts.
Emily Glassberg Sands, Data Science Manager, Coursera: https://building.coursera.org/blog/2016/03/11/why-data-science-needs-diversity/
Elena Grewal, Data Science Manager, Airbnb: https://medium.com/airbnb-engineering/beginning-with-ourselves-48c5ed46a703#.yqnuro7ke