Miami Tech & Startup News

View: New legislation will set Miami’s push for equity behind

View: New legislation will set Miami’s push for equity behind

By Victoria Santamarina – Guest Contributor

In his attempts to take on so-called “corporate wokeness,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed into law the Individual Freedom Bill. which officially went into effect July 1 despite ongoing court challenges. Among other things, the bill generally restricts employers from subjecting their employees to diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings in a manner that may cause discomfort, guilt, or psychological distress to members of a particular race, color, national origin, or sex. The bill’s language is very broad but is clearly a reactionary backlash against the recent rise in conversations about race, privilege, and systems of oppression. Most people recognize that these conversations are long past due.

Thanks to the Great Resignation and the supposed tech worker shortage, many employees have the power to be more selective in their job search and reject toxic work environments. And if Miami hopes to cultivate and maintain its reputation as a tech hub on the rise, it needs to not only continue recruiting diverse talent both from within and outside of the state, but also ensure that employees are incentivized to stay. Otherwise, Florida employers risk creating a revolving door of talent.

With the introduction of the Individual Freedom Bill, workers from marginalized groups are being sent a very clear message: your comfort and safety at work are not priorities in Florida. So, what reason do they have to seek employment in Miami, and what does this mean for Miami’s reputation as a growing tech hub?

Why GET Cities cares

Here at GET Cities, our overarching goal is to increase the representation and leadership of women, transgender, and non-binary people, particularly those who are also Black, Latino/a, Indigenous, and people of color, in the tech industry. We believe that change can be accelerated on a national scale when we start at the local level, which is why our work is based out of three city hubs – Chicago, DC, and Miami. We’re admittedly still very new to Miami, having only expanded here in late 2021, but the decision to select this city as our third hub had been months in the making.

We were ultimately won over not just by the rapid growth of the Miami tech scene, but also by the city’s commitment to creating a local tech economy centered around inclusivity. However, if we had anticipated legislation such as this would take hold, we might have been forced to consider other options, since this directly impacts our ability to do our work here.

Victoria Santamarina, Managing Director of GET Cities Miami

Tech’s representation problem

Marginalized people are speaking out against the racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia that has been deeply ingrained in this country since its inception, and they are shedding light on the harmful experiences they continue to endure in the workplace and beyond. This work continues to be critical. And they aren’t just voicing opinions; they’re speaking facts.

Take, for example, the fact that women only comprise 25% of the tech workforce, despite making up 47% of all employed adults in the U.S. Many women who do pursue tech careers often end up leaving the industry after they face continued issues of harassment, gender bias, and a general lack of support or respect. These stories aren’t just anecdotal either. Just last year, a report from Wiley showed that amongst 2,000 workers who were interviewed, 50% said they wanted to leave or had already left a tech job because the company culture had made them feel unwelcome or uncomfortable, and 68% said they felt uncomfortable specifically because of their gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, or neurodevelopmental condition. Women, Asian, Black, and Hispanic respondents were much more likely to have had this experience. Locally, it’s encouraging to note that South Florida has one of the most diverse tech workforces and talent pipelines in the country when it comes to race; however, data shows that we’re still falling behind in terms of representation for women and other marginalized genders.

The upside is that these numbers aren’t where they were five, ten, or fifteen years ago. Every year, Florida and our country at large continues to inch ever so slowly towards achieving gender and racial equity in the tech industry. In order for us to continue along the right path, it’s crucial that we have the freedom to discuss the barriers that still remain for marginalized groups. If we’re too nervous or afraid to talk about them, how can we even begin to remove them?

The state of DEI in the workplace

Workplace DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) training and programs are a dime a dozen nowadays. So this bill pushes us further behind in an area where we already still have plenty of work to do. These initiatives are a largely beneficial means of creating inclusive environments where marginalized groups can feel welcome and respected by their peers and organizational leadership. However, they already often fall short of making meaningful changes. This is for a number of reasons:

1) They’re often reactive rather than proactive, with the true purpose being to protect the company from bad press or litigation.

In the wake of the #MeToo era and the dramatic rise in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd, there has been a predictable increase in workplace DEI initiatives as organizations have scrambled to protect their public image. Even if the initiatives themselves are ineffective, simply having them often places the company in a more favorable light.

2) They don’t have buy-in from senior leadership.

Many companies can and do claim that DEI is important to them; fewer can say that DEI is an actual strategic initiative with the appropriate amount of resources dedicated to achieving their goals. This can only happen if leadership at the highest levels views DEI as one of their topmost priorities. Unsurprisingly, evidence shows the vast majority of business leaders do not.

3) There is no process for accountability.

We saw many CEOs make bold promises to fight racial inequality, both broadly and within their own organizations, after the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. And yet, two years later, there is no single entity tracking these corporate pledges to confirm whether they actually followed through. Establishing effective DEI programs and initiatives is difficult, time-consuming, and sometimes expensive work. If there is no accountability process to encourage those in power to follow through on their commitments, and no consequences if they fall short, there is very little incentive for leadership to do any more than the bare minimum for DEI.

The state of DEI in the majority of workplaces is already not enough. Legislation that disincentivizes corporate leadership from pursuing even this status quo, let alone more bold and innovative approaches is the opposite of what is needed.

Miami will fall behind

Miami has spent the last several years cultivating its reputation as a global hub of innovation. According to Axios, the city saw a 30% increase in software and IT workers in 2021, up from 15% in the previous year. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has been on a highly publicized and

largely successful mission to draw in tech giants and workers from Silicon Valley. It couldn’t be more clear that Miami is in the midst of a tech renaissance. But what does the Miami tech scene need in order to truly thrive? DEI.

There is a mountain of evidence to support the claim that diversity in the workplace spurs innovation. We’ve heard about the business case for diversity a hundred times over. No one can reasonably deny the fact that diverse teams perform better. And if diversity alone were enough, then Miami – a city renowned for its cultural diversity – would be in great shape. But diversity becomes largely meaningless if employers don’t equally prioritize the values of equity and inclusion. It’s not just about the number of women, transgender, non-binary, and BIPOC workers you have on your team; it’s about how well you retain them. Do they feel valued, respected, and empowered enough to bring their full selves to work? Or are they struggling to perform under the mental burden of fielding constant micro-aggressions from their coworkers and managers?

What happens next?

We know that in order for us to make any real progress toward our goal, we need to first move toward the willing. Change can’t and won’t happen if the people holding positions of power continue to act as roadblocks. An example of our efforts here is our virtual GET Champions program, a DEI initiative designed specifically for forward-thinking tech leaders who hope to increase diversity on their teams. Our selected fellows were not forced or cajoled into signing up for GET Champions; they intentionally joined because they recognize both the value of DEI in the workplace and their own shortcomings in this regard. In moving to Miami, we were anticipating a similarly open-minded environment in which we could launch new programs and initiatives to meet this city’s specific needs. Now, we can only hope that our efforts here won’t be undermined by this new bill or any future discriminatory legislation from the state government.

Regardless, we fully intend to move forward with our goal of fostering an inclusive and equitable tech economy in Miami. We prioritize the needs of our core constituency first and foremost, and therefore will not be scaling back or tiptoeing around this bill. If your organization feels strongly about the necessity of creating diverse, inclusive, and equitable working environments for ALL employees, we encourage you to join us in speaking up and rebuking Governor DeSantis’s efforts to halt the expansion of DEI initiatives. We can’t say what the consequences of taking this stand will be; but we do know that to be silent is to be complicit.

Victoria Santamarina is managing director of GET Cities Miami, an organization that helps ecosystem organizations achieve their shared mission of closing the gap in disparity for women in technology.

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