Time to swim upstream
I’m a middle-aged, white male who works in the tech industry; lucky for me, I get to “swim with the current.” I work in a culture that has been optimized for me. Many others in the field of computing aren’t so fortunate; they find themselves in a work environment that is indifferent to them (if not downright hostile), placing barriers in the way of their career advancement. It should be no surprise that most of the people in the tech industry are just like me, since we—often unintentionally—tend to hire and promote people who are most like us. Here’s the thing though: the resulting monoculture is bad for the industry and the individual companies that participate in it. It’s bad for our customers, for the field of computing, and bad for those who would like to have a successful career in technology but find the deck stacked against them.
As the general manager of Microsoft Research, I work daily with my colleagues to advance the state of the art in research. What this really means is that we work to drive innovation, and I’m well aware that statistics show that the presence of women increases technical teams’ collective intelligence. And I’m pleased to note that fostering a diverse workplace is an important commitment at Microsoft, a commitment we back up with scholarships and internships for young women who are interested in computing careers.
But corporate commitment alone isn’t enough. There has to be personal recognition of the need for change—and the problem with swimming with the current is that you are often not aware that the current is carrying you along—or that it even exists in the first place. That can make it hard to appreciate the struggles of those who are forced to swim against it. On one level, I get it—I know that the game is rigged in my favor, and that it’s wrong, and I sincerely want to make it right. On the other hand, I need help in understanding what needs to change to make it right.
This week I’m in Minneapolis, attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, an annual gathering of women at all stages in their careers in the field of computing, along with the leadership of the field (both women and men). In fact, I’m just one member of Microsoft’s 260-strong contingent, which includes senior executives Julie Larson-Green, Jacky Wright, Rick Rashid, and Jennifer Chayes.
For me, the Grace Hopper Celebration is an opportunity to have a discussion about how we can ensure that women in our field get to participate fully, advance their careers, and work in an environment that respects them as individuals as well as for their unique and important contributions. It’s a chance for me to voice support, both on my own and Microsoft’s behalf, for initiatives that advance these goals. But it’s also a chance for me to learn about my own blind spots and increase my awareness of things that I can be doing to help women reach for their dreams. It’s important to me to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.
I also have another important opportunity and role this year at Grace Hopper: proud father. My twin daughters recently graduated from college and are both now working in the field of computing. I’m thrilled that they are attending the Grace Hopper conference this year. It’s a privilege for me to watch and support them as they launch their own careers and begin to build their own network of colleagues through events such as this one, and it gives me one more reason to “fight the good fight” to make things better for women in our field.
—Kevin Schofield, General Manager, Microsoft Research