Support Local Journalism!        

Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



TRIBUNE PHOTO: DIEGO DIAZ - Monica Enand, founder and CEO of electronic discovery firm Zapproved, has seen it all in a 25 year career in  chips and software, but was excited this summer to sign the Diversity Pledge to hire more women and ethnic minorities.

Monica Enand gave up on the whole push-for-diversity-in-tech thing for a decade.

She had great tech chops. She was the solo female graduate in computer engineering in her class at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University in the early 1990s.

She was an engineer and software developer at Intel and went on to found Zapproved in 2007, a company that manages electronic discovery for law firms.

“On panels the only question I got asked was about women and work-life balance,” Enand says in her office in the Pearl District. “It makes me ill,” she says with a laugh. That debate was paradoxically marginalizing. “When work life balance is just a women’s problem, we lose.” She felt there were other issues that women deal with, and that if men debated it, employers would take notice. “I stopped doing panels because of that tiresome subject.”

She got excited again early in 2015 about the Portland Development Commission’s Tech Diversity Pledge. It invited local tech CEOs to improve training and hiring practices to create a more diverse workforce.

“Patrick Quinton (PDC boss) didn’t come in and tell us what to do. He said here’s the problem statement, here’s why you should care, and asked us what we thought we should do about it?”

Someone at PDC sent around a staff training video made at Google about fighting unconscious bias. It was a good place to start. “Because it’s unconscious, it’s not about being a bad person. We all have these biases. We’re all making judgments based on what we see, trying to process it.”

In the office, likeability is almost as important as skills and experience. “People always talk about how likeable someone is to work with.” But women have to be likeable in a way that doesn’t leave much wiggle room. Just as women struggle to find the right handshake — not too strong and not too weak — men can deliver anything from a mild squeeze to a bone-cruncher and still be taken seriously.

For instance, women executives get a hard time for acting tough. She stops short of vocalizing the word “bitch” but Enand has been criticized for as much.

“People say ‘Why didn’t she smile at me?’ Confident, strong men are likeable, but for a woman, being likeable and competent are very different.”

She even cops to feeling that way too. “I have that too! I go ‘What’s wrong with her?’”

She also admits to having similarity bias — because we all do. We largely prefer people like ourselves — especially when hiring a cubicle mate.

Ilana Davis, the HR Manager at Zapproved, adds, “When a woman delivers bad news, it’s different. When a man delivers bad news, people say ‘I respect him for being straightforward.”

Davis scans hundreds of resumes on her screen when she is looking for fill an appointment. She has trained herself to not look at the name and address at the top of the resume.

“It tells me about gender and ethnicity, when I want to focus on the skill set,” she says.

More access to better people

Davis says white males should have no fear of being passed over for less-talented minority. The goal is to enlarge the pool of potential applicants, to have more access to better people.

Enand says the pledge companies started with a number, a percentage of minorities that should be in the industry. They quickly realized they had no idea where the baseline was, so they abandoned that. She is always looking for ways to make the office a more welcoming environment for all types of people. But proof that the staff are on board comes in the form of multiple articles forwarded to her.

“Like from my CTO (a white male) on how to create an environment that removes bias, or why girls fail in computer science.” She knows the answer to that: women were well represented in computer science college classes until the 1970s. That number dipped when the personal computer came along, as boys, not girls, were given them as presents, because boys were more into gaming.

Enand talks mainly about being a woman (and with no accent), but she comes from a light-skinned family in the north of India. Race is perhaps less of an issue for her than height. Around five feet tall, she has noticed some other biases.

“There are studies that show people assume tall white males have leadership skills. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called a firecracker,” she says. The word firecracker, apparently, is the word male executives reserve for small, forceful, energetic women. It usually masks some surprise at her competence.

It’s all about the money

Another signer of the pledge was InDinero, an online accounting, tax prep and payroll company. Fifty-one percent of the staff are female, and there are 40 people in Portland — mainly sales and marketing.

Sarah Olbekson, the Talent Acquisition Manager, says, “We are not targeting one group, we just want to create a diverse group so we can best serve our clients.”

The sense of diversity is more about different personalities rather than races.

“Not everyone wants to work with the same person. A communications major might communicate in a different way from a business major.” She has a saleswoman who is a big personality and wears bright clothes. “Everyone wants to talk to her,” says Olbekson. That’s a different way of looking at diversity, but one which shows how the word is spreading in usage and in meaning.

After all, terms like microaggression and white privilege were only used in academia 15 years ago. Now they have spread into everyday language.

“The best thing is to cast a wide net and then present the best to the hiring managers. We’re just trying to create a good group,” says Olbekson.

Positive response

The Tech Diversity Pledge means bringing in more people of color and more women in a traditionally white male industry. Whites, Southeast Asians and South Asians are overrepresented in tech, Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented. In a world of golf clubs and light sabers, it was a bold move. And in a white city like Portland, it could seem like an uphill struggle.

But Portland’s tech crowd have been surprisingly responsive. The PDC started out quietly last

December, talking to five key players, including Sam Blackman, CEO of Elemental Technologies, the closest the Portland tech world has to a Valley visionary. As of early September, a total of 21 companies had signed the pledge.

Blackman said at the time, “The roots of gender and race underrepresentation in technology go deep into our education system and society... To effect enduring change, every company in Oregon’s tech sector must proactively support inclusivity and diversity.”

Although it is wrapped in policy wonk jargon, the PDC plan strives to get beyond just talk.

The companies have to agree to work with workforce groups that can bring them minority workers, change the way they hire, educate staff on unconscious workplace biases, make sure minorities can progress (that is, get promoted) and make the results public.

Jared Wiener, PDC’s software industry liaison, says Portland’s approach is different from that of Silicon Valley.

“This is a confluence of private and public bodies,” he says.” The companies are voluntarily on board, but they believe their bottomline will be improved.

The City of Portland has recently placed a strong emphasis on equity in all its strategic documents.

“It’s to create more balance, and more fairness across the board, allowing for more impartial decision making to take place,” says Wiener. “It’s about allowing access to opportunity for all.”

The PDC will report annually on the success or otherwise of the plan.

“Basically there’s not enough talent of any race or gender for the roles waiting to be filled,” says Wiener, “but all the companies are aware it doesn’t end at just hiring them, they have to make sure they’re comfortable.”

Analyze this

James McDermott has backed the pledge to the hilt. Lytics makes software that reports on consumer online activity, and can predict what the consumer will look at or buy next. It sells this data to the client.

He’s a great believer that having a team from different backgrounds — including different colleges as much as different continents — makes his company stronger.

“Making software is about solving problems, and if you have people from different backgrounds working on a problem, they come at things from different angles and have more creative ways of solving problems,” he says.

Simple examples include a staff member with an empathetic approach to the customer, or someone who sees that the company’s marketing is only addressing a subset of the market.

McDermott says that his employees do not look askance at the latest minority hire.

“They don’t think about whether it’s a male, a female or disabled, they just embrace them and get them up to speed. Help them do a good job.”

More openness, diversity is better

Larger firms have a harder time waith this, he asserts.

“In general Portland is open-minded, but one of the reasons we signed the pledge is, if you want to change something you have to understand it. You need to measure it then figure out your goal, and have accountability.”

As boss of a data company, McDermott is excited about something else.

“We’re not a publically traded company (with reporting rules), but we can do this disclosure, this opening kimonos. It’s only though visibility we can have change.”

COURTESY: TAHIRAH ALI - Armon Moore, a rare African American male heading up a Portland tech firm, says he benefited form internships on the way to creating Impact Flow, and hopes to pay it forward. Armon Moore, a young African American man from Georgia interning at a Madison Avenue ad agency, was often drafted in to explain ways to reach young people or black people. “I would have to educate the room,” he says.

Moore’s degree from a traditionally black college wasn’t really helping, so he researched multicultural and minority internships, and got his foot in the door.

Right now he would like to see more women in coding in general, but also in his engineering team. He also believes companies developing diversity from day one will have an advantage in five years over big, old companies that move too slowly.

His company, ImpactFlow, makes software to streamline philanthropy and corporate giving. When they moved form San Francisco to the Bakery Building in southeast Portland he changed to an open seating layout.

“With open seating the communication between teams was better and productivity went up,” he says. “People became more inclusive.”Moore was focusing on diversity and inclusiveness in a particular way.

In Portland, diversity is a broad term, which should make measuring its progress very interesting.

Go to top
JSN Time 2 is designed by | powered by JSN Sun Framework