Diversity in STEM problem in US is worsening, warns Fidelity CTO (video)

18 Jun 2015

Steve Neff, CTO, Fidelity Investments onstage at Inspirefest 2015. Image credit: Conor McCabe

For women and minorities, representation in technology is getting worse not better, the CTO of Fidelity Investments Steve Neff, told Inspirefest 2015. He urged leaders to use innovation to increase diversity in their organisations.

Founded in 1946, Fidelity is one of the world’s biggest financial services companies, serving more than 25m people worldwide.

Neff said that in the US across the board women hold 50pc of professional jobs, but in the tech industry this is less than 25pc.

Neff said that for minorities the problem is extremely pronounced, with African-Americans holding 3pc of professional roles and Hispanics 2pc of roles.

“In the US it is getting worse. For women and minorities, especially in STEM, there is not enough representation in technology as a whole.”

Neff said the problem is especially incongruous given the unique factors of the time we live in.

“If you look at the next decade, two-thirds of the wealth in the US will transition to women investors. 70pc of women don’t like the product that is produced by financial advisers and 72pc don’t like the service. They have the money, but they don’t like the product or service.

“Who is going to fix the problem? We need better design. We need more in the way of female representation, and this generation is largely millennials who are digitally aware and do business totally different than we’ve seen in the past.

“2.5bn people on the planet have no banking relationship today.

“In the US there is a war for talent. This decade the US will produce 1.5m technology jobs – but we will only be able to fill one-third of these with the kids coming out of university.

“If this tells you anything there is a strong case for diversity in our business.

“We are at a point in time where the changes are so different than before that it is literally changing the entire underpinnings of our industry. Customers are changing, demographics are changing, age is changing, where the wealth is is changing and how customers interact and customer experience is changing.

“The only way to address this is to go forward through innovation and diversity.”

Offering insights for how organisations can better embrace diversity, Neff said the technology industry needs to take a hard look at itself. He said he was at a recent conference of CIOs where 70 of the people in the room were men, just five were women.

Use innovation to find diversity

He said as part of Fidelity’s LEAP programme for recruiting graduates, Fidelity has instituted a programme where senior leadership members have one-on-one meetings with millennials to understand trends and how the world is changing.

He pointed out that often women who leave technology roles do so in the middle of their careers. They either choose a different career because the technology sector is not supportive enough or don’t come back because it is very hard to re-enter the industry.

He also pointed to encouraging people to tackle their unconscious biases in terms of gender, race or physical disabilities.

He recalled how early in his career at IBM he faced up to his own unconscious bias while working with a disabled colleague. “By the time that experience was over for me, when you talk about leadership qualities – commitment, inspiration, decisiveness, honesty, confidence, tenacity – that was this guy. He didn’t teach me anything about technology, but he taught me those things over that one month.”

He said that slowly the wheels of change are beginning to turn. At a recent start-up accelerator in Boston, at least 40pc of start-ups had a female founder, twice the level of the previous year.

“There really is a strong business case for diversity – you have to have one. Be aware and embrace the fact that bias exists, understand what your bias is and work around it.

“Just using traditional approaches won’t work. We need a larger pool of talent. We need diversity to drive innovation, but we should also be using innovation to find diversity.”

Inspirefest 2015 is Silicon Republic’s international event running 18-20 June in Dublin, connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM with fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.

This story was originally published at 2pm on 18 June 2015. It has since been updated with a video report. It was amended at 08.30 on 19 June to reflect that Fidelity serves 25m people worldwide.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years