SXSW Insights: The Future of Innovation
During SXSW Interactive, we attended a panel called “Building the Next Generation of Innovators,” which illuminated ways that public institutions, non-profit organizations and private businesses can work together to get children actively involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in order to propel business and innovation in the future.
The discussion was moderated by White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Analyst Kumar Garg and panelists included Time Warner Cable Dispatcher Lori Donaldson, Time Warner Cable Senior Director of Strategic Philanthropy & Community Affairs Tessie Topol, Jon Dudas, President of non-profit program FIRST (“For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”) and Allison Rich, a FIRST robotics team member and senior at Anderson High School in Austin, Texas.
Garg started the conversation by pointing out that the White House has been putting a lot of energy into finding ways to build the economy by inspiring kids to learn about science and technology.
“More and more, science and technology are becoming part of being a citizen,” said Garg. “But [further development] is going to require companies to step up.”
That’s where the private sector comes in. Topol says that for its part, Time Warner Cable has tackled the issue of student engagement with philanthropy and community outreach, with a particular focus on non-profit partnerships. In April 2010, Time Warner Cable entered into a strategic partnership with FIRST after Time Warner Cable’s CEO Glenn Britt was asked by President Obama to mobilize the CEO community to build math and science appreciation among kids.
Through its Connect a Million Minds program, Time Warner Cable has dedicated $100 million to work to “inspire the next generation of problem solvers.”
Time Warner Cable has further branched out in the STEM community by working closely with the Coalition for Science After School and joining FIRST’s i.am FIRST initiative to launch Wouldn’t It Be Cool If—a contest that lets students pitch invention ideas to a panel of experts.
FIRST has been around since 1989, when it was founded by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen with a mission “to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”
Each year, FIRST conducts an international high school robotics competition, giving teams of students six weeks to construct a robot that can operate both autonomously and through wireless controls.
Since its inception FIRST has attracted a notable list of sponsors, including Microsoft, Google and Boeing, and gained media attention with a variety of televised documentaries focused on the program. Last year, ABC aired “i.am FIRST: Science is Rock and Roll”—a special featuring Bono, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber and The Black Eyed Peas.
Such pop culture/STEM fusions just may be the key to getting kids excited about the inevitable direction of business and innovation. According to Garg, 80 percent of jobs in the next decade will use math and science.
“We have to make certain that kids know how to innovate in the same ways we have to learn and develop ourselves in our jobs,” said Dudas, adding that challenges are vital to the process. “Failure is just another opportunity to learn.”
We all still have a lot of work to do—Topol points out that recent studies show 61 percent of middle school kids would rather take out the trash than do their math and science homework—but it seems that FIRST and Time Warner Cable are making significant strides toward getting the next generation engaged.
Before closing out the panel by wowing the crowd with her FIRST Robotics Competition team’s six-foot tall robot, Allison Rich explained that when she was younger, she dreamed of being a dancer, but has shifted to pursuing a career in mechanical engineering.
“That’s something I never would have thought about if it wasn’t for FIRST,” Allison said. “It’s math and science, but you don’t know you are doing it.”
How changing your company's software code can prevent bias
Two-third of tech professionals believe organizations aren’t doing enough to address racial inequality. After all, many companies will just hire a DEI consultant, have a few training sessions and call it a day.
Wanting to take a unique yet impactful approach to DEI, Deltek, the leading global provider of software and solutions for project-based businesses, took a look at and removed all exclusive terminology in their software code. By removing terms such as ‘master’ and ‘blacklist’ from company coding, Deltek is working to ensure that diversity and inclusion are woven into every aspect of their organization.
Business Chief North America talks to Lisa Roberts, Senior Director of HR and Leader of Diversity & Inclusion at Deltek to find out more.
Why should businesses today care about removing company bias within their software code?
We know that words can have a profound impact on people and leave a lasting impression. Many of the words that have been used in a technology environment were created many years ago, and today those words can be harmful to our customers and employees. Businesses should use words that will leave a positive impact and help create a more inclusive culture in their organization
What impact can exclusive terms have on employees?
Exclusive terms can have a significant impact on employees. It starts with the words we use in our job postings to describe the responsibilities in the position and of course, we also see this in our software code and other areas of the business. Exclusive terminology can be hurtful, and even make employees feel unwelcome. That can impact a person’s desire to join the team, stay at a company, or ultimately decide to leave. All of these critical actions impact the bottom line to the organization.
Please explain how Deltek has removed bias terminology from its software code
Deltek’s engineering team has removed biased terminology from our products, as well as from our documentation. The terms we focused on first that were easy to identify include blacklist, whitelist, and master/slave relationships in data architecture. We have also made some progress in removing gendered language, such as changing he and she to they in some documentation, as well as heteronormative language. We see this most commonly in pick lists that ask to identify someone as your husband or wife. The work is not done, but we are proud of how far we’ve come with this exercise!
What steps is Deltek taking to ensure biased terminology doesn’t end up in its code in the future?
What we are doing at Deltek, and what other organizations can do, is to put accountability on employees to recognize when this is happening – if you see something, say something! We also listen to feedback our customers give us and have heard their feedback on this topic. Those are both very reactive things of course, but we are also proactive. We have created guidance that identifies words that are more inclusive and also just good practice for communicating in a way that includes and respects others.
What advice would you give to other HR leaders who are looking to enhance DEI efforts within company technology?
My simple advice is to start with what makes sense to your organization and culture. Doing nothing is worse than doing something. And one of the best places to start is by acknowledging this is not just an HR initiative. Every employee owns the success of D&I efforts, and employees want to help the organization be better. For example, removing bias terminology was an action initiated by our Engineering and Product Strategy teams at Deltek, not HR. You can solicit the voices of employees by asking for feedback in engagement surveys, focus groups, and town halls. We hear great recommendations from employees and take those opportunities to improve.