Could a Texas city be poised to show up Silicon Valley when it comes to embracing diversity in so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields?
You bet your authentic “Keep Austin Weird” T-shirt.
While the West Coast’s biggest Bay Area players continue their sluggish representation of minority voices, the capital of the Lone Star State shines brightly with innovation spurred by open opportunities for all. Unlike corporations such as Google and Amazon, which employ fewer than 3 percent African-American workers in technical positions (10 percent less than counterparts around the nation), Austin’s businesses are actively bucking the trend.
The momentum toward diversification of personnel is palpable; it’s also important from a purely profitable perspective. Studies have shown that tech enterprises led by women produce 35 percent greater revenue than those steered by men and that having a powerful female leader at the helm makes a $44 million difference for innovation-based companies.
In other words, being pro-Austin is good for the psyche and the pocketbook — and that’s partly why it consistently ranks among the nation’s best places to start a business. Austin’s forward-thinking environment has made it an entrepreneurial oasis for any woman or minority tired of bandaging the cuts that come from shattering glass ceiling after glass ceiling.
Broader Views in Austin’s Boardrooms
Perhaps it’s a little ironic that conservative-leaning middle America has emerged as the place where girls are encouraged to embrace their possibilities without allowing dusty, trite “ladies don’t have a natural penchant for math or science” mantras to get in their way. Yet the STEM scene is flourishing among Austin’s green spaces and active incubator centers.
Girlstart is a terrific example of an Austin organization that’s cultivating curiosity among tomorrow’s female startup leaders. By focusing on teaching girls early that they can (and should) foster a love of challenging themselves, Girlstart is trying to make STEM-based programs cool. As one professor from the University of Oklahoma notes, the secret to highlighting STEM careers is making them relevant to students. With more women teaching STEM to girls, the inevitable consequence will be a heightened realization among all students that anyone can be a disruptor.
For Austin’s female students who want an even more immersive STEM experience, there’s always the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. Billed as a “public all-girls school of choice,” it’s a place where I’ve personally mentored many young women on their journeys to hopefully become my future collaborators — and maybe even competitors — in the business world. What better way to get a head start and learn how vast their possibilities are than by living STEM day after day?
Of course, for women and women-identifying entrepreneurs already in the workforce, Austin’s BossBabes (#bbatx) offers much-needed support. The organization has an ever-evolving carousel of immersive events and professional development platforms to enrich the working and personal lives of women who are set on being changemakers. BossBabes has made national waves from its central Texas home, with one article indicating that Austin City Council’s mostly female leadership team indicates just how powerful focused messaging can be in transforming communities, one election at a time.
In the corridors of our own company, we try to echo these sentiments and build on what organizations such as Girlstart, Ann Richards School, BossBabes, and so many others have begun. Our mentality is one of complete inclusion across the spectrum of people we work with — clients, teammates, vendors, and partners. With empathy as a core value, we support one another to reach common goals — namely, altering the future of software innovation.
Tightening the Innovation Gap in the Heartland
With so much good stuff happening in the area of STEM careers for women and minorities in and around Austin, three significant achievements have come to the forefront for businesses that make their home in this ever-evolving pocket of Texas:
1.Improved Team Dynamics
The Harvard Business Review doesn’t mince words when it claims that having women within a team increases the group’s intelligence. Anyone who has ever brainstormed in a diverse atmosphere understands why having differing viewpoints makes for smarter, more interesting solutions. Without a set of divergent voices, teams can’t see issues from all perspectives, limiting their abilities to make the wisest decisions.
2.Increased Overall Innovation
Innovation isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a necessity in a world where women’s buying power projects astronomically higher than the rest of society. Women are a demographic that companies can’t afford to ignore. With women-generated ideas at the table, innovation can become reality.
3.Greater Productivity and Multitasking
Gender diversity also helps improve hard numbers because the more balanced the genders of a team, the more likely it is to turn in stronger work. Additionally, the sense of collaboration lends itself to pride, which buoys higher performance efforts and ratings.
Living and working in Austin isn’t “weird.” It’s downright wonderful, especially for people who believe it’s high time for organizations to throw out anything that smacks of “the way we’ve always done things.” The more press Austin gets, the more likely its tenets will spread through the rest of the nation. As such, everyone — not just women and minorities — will ultimately benefit.