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Unintended Consequences of a Lack of Diversity

There are many buzzwords and phrases that fill the air in Silicon Valley: “disruption,” “the internet of things” and “hyper-convergence” to name a few. Something that I hear often and with both positive and negative connotations is the term “unintended consequences.” It’s defined here by Bizshifts-trends.com as being roughly grouped into three types: positive–unexpected benefit, negative–unexpected detrimental occurrence, and perverse outcome contrary to what is originally intended causing actions opposite to what was intended.

This phrase came to mind when I read some of the criticism aimed at the otherwise much-lauded Apple Health App. Comprehensive in so many ways, the app fails to cover some key aspects of women’s health. Martha Lane-Fox, an internet entrepreneur and victor of the first dot-com boom said this week that she believes the reason for this is that the number of women on the engineering team for the app was “exactly zero.”

This is not to detract from the truly great minds at Apple, or to suggest that engineers of any gender lack the ability or empathy to consider the needs of all customer segments. But I think the Apple Health App example does serve as an important reminder of how problematic the lack of diversity – specifically women in this case – can be in the eventual efficacy of a product: the unintended consequences of unintended – or unconsidered – lack of representation.

It also demonstrates the value of the various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs that are in place across the country. WBENC, an organization I am proud to be a part of, is doing some tremendous work in this field. Coming up this May, they are hosting an evening panel event in collaboration with the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO-SFBA), Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) and Women President’s Organization (WPO) designed to motivate, inspire and empower. This endeavor exemplifies what is so valuable about the WBENC community – the willingness and commitment to sharing information and knowledge for the greater good. As I have said many times before, it isn’t and can’t be a ‘them vs us’ mentality but it’s about understanding how the challenges have been met by those who have gone before and how that learning can be shared to create a more collaborative process.

What is clear is that discussions around diversity and inclusion are not going away. From a business owner point of view – or from any point of view – why wouldn’t you want to have the smartest mix of talent involved? To use one last phrase often used in business: ‘a place at the table.’  In my mind, as a WBE, there is place for us all.


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