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The Enduring Value of Diversity in Tech

At this year’s Microsoft MVP Summit, yours truly got a chance to see some serious diversity at work. This gave me an unusual opportunity to see, hear, and appreciate its surprisingly valuable benefits.

Attendees at Microsoft's annual Global MVP Summit.It’s always fun, and incredibly educational, to see what happens when organizations “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk.” I recently had the thrilling and instructive opportunity to see the benefits and value of diversity in action as a first-time attendee at Microsoft’s Global MVP Summit, held March 3-9 at Microsoft's Seattle-area home stomping grounds.


By any measure, that group of slightly more than 2,100 people was both incredibly diverse and equally interesting. The event’s first pre-day focused on soft skills development — also a favorite subject of mine, as anybody who’s been following me here for any length of time already knows.


Not coincidentally, it also discussed the value of diversity, while providing an eloquent demonstration of that value at the same time.


Let’s Start with Women


I was very interested to learn that men outnumber women in the global population by a very slight percentage. According to the World Bank, in 2015 that ratio was just under 50.5 percent men to 49.5 percent women. According to that same source, the ratio of men to women in the global workforce is around 60.8 percent men to 39.3 percent women.


In IT, of course, those numbers are somewhat lower. Women in Tech reports that women represent just 25 percent of the IT workforce in the United States. By eyeballing the attendees at the MPV Summit and performing rough counts at every session I attended there (only 30 or so gatherings out of a possible 600-plus) I estimate that the proportion of attendees that was female was around 40 percent.


(I’ve contacted show management for better numbers and will update this post when and as they’re forthcoming).


Data Platform MVP Rie Irish gave one of the best sessions at the pre-day in the downtown Hyatt in Bellevue, Wash. Called “Let her finish!,” that session discussed both Irish's own and other women’s experiences in interacting with (male) bosses, co-workers, and others.


It informed all of us present as to some of the best ways that IT professionals can detect and correct their own unconscious and “totally normal” biases in working and interacting with women on the job. I walked out of that session with my head spinning, realizing that I am as guilty of this kind of behavior as anyone else.


Thanks to Ms. Irish’s terrific presentation, however, I am also now armed with some great rules and ideas for behavior modification. Just in the short weeks that have passed since the event, I feel this counsel has already made me a better person. I'm grateful that I listened to her spiel and, yes, “let her finish!”


On to Geographical Diversity


Next, I was stunned and thrilled to observe that the audience almost reflected the geographical distribution of people on the planet. In fact, this was the first time I’ve EVER attended a conference in the United States where the number of attendees from outside the country significantly outpaced the headcount for "locals."


Here’s the projected distribution of where attendees had planned to visit from, which Microsoft issued before the summit occurred. (Again, I’ve asked for updated numbers and will report them when and as I can lay hands on them.)


Projected attendance by regions, Microsoft Global MVP Summit, 2018.


The only sub-group that’s seriously out of whack is APAC (Asia-Pacific), which should exceed all other regions by total count, but is actually second-smallest, ahead of only Latin America. Ranked by total population, we should see APAC, EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), North America, Latin America.