Tech leaders urge for more diversity at White House SXSL event

Tech leaders at the White House’s South By South Lawn event spoke Monday about using technology to mitigate social issues and expanding diversity within the sector. 

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Prominent players in tech and media, including Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield; Chris Redlitz, managing partner of Transmedia Capital; and Campaign Zero co-founder and Black Lives Matter activist Brittany Packnett spoke at the event.

“There are these tools that young people are creating to make change,” Packnett said, crediting tech platforms like Twitter for helping political causes such as Black Lives Matter.

The White House under President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: Trump grows weak as clock ticks down How Obama can win back millions of Trump voters for Biden Biden taps Obama alums for high-level campaign positions: report MORE has been more tech-centric than past administrations, winning the president admirers in Silicon Valley.

In the past year, the White House has pushed for expansions of tech job training and advanced proposals such as the transfer of internet domain systems oversight from the U.S. to an international governing body. Instead of just attending the annual tech gathering South By Southwest (SXSW), Obama brought music, tech, and cultural issues to the White House with South By South Lawn. 

On a panel at the event titled, “Fixing Real Problems,” Butterfield, Redlitz and others spoke on using to tech to combat inequity and combating socioeconomic and racial inequity within tech.

“Who’s to say what’s a fruitless product or not, but there are needs to be addressed, that’s why it’s important to have more diversity to bring those perspectives in,” said Jukay Hsu founder of Coalition for Queens, speaking on how diverse perspectives could bring solutions to problems that other group aren’t necessarily thinking about

Silicon Valley has received substantial criticism from lawmakers and other groups for its homogenous culture that disproportionately represents white males. Butterfield commented on Slack’s relative diversity compared to other tech competitors, which has attracted talent like Leslie Miley, who left Twitter after frustration over lack of diversity.

“We were pretty small,” Butterfield said regarding when Slack started pushing for diverse hiring. “I think it’s pretty hard to change things when you have thousands of people.”

Diversity in tech is something that Obama administration has signaled support for, but by and large, has yet to be achieved.

Hsu echoed Butterfield’s sentiment. 

“Every person we get from an underserved background into a company as an engineer, that not only changes their lives, but transforms the company from the inside out,” he said.