How is Nashville doing on diversity in technology? Not well enough

What is Nashville doing to bring more women and minorities into its software development community? Whatever the answer, it could be more.

“No matter what I list on my bullet list of things that the city is doing well, the answer is — it’s not enough,” Jurnell Cockhren, founder of development firm Sophicware, said during a panel on diversity in tech Tuesday evening.

The panel preceded a screening of the 2015 documentary “Code: Debugging the Gender Gap,” sponsored by a handful of Nashville technology companies and organizations. The documentary focuses on the shortage of women and minorities working in tech, a hot-button issue for the industry both at a local and national level for the past several years.

Cockhren and his fellow panelists – hailing from TechnologyAdvice, Stratasan, Plum Flower Software and the Nashville Software School, and answering questions from Ann Howard of Centresource – highlighted several positive trends for inclusiveness within Nashville’s technology community.

For example, adult coding bootcamp Nashville Software School has opened the field up to a more diverse pool of people pursuing second careers, said Lisa French, a Stratasan employee and NSS graduate who said she could remember attending a technology meet-up several years ago where she was one of four women. Today, French said, it’s harder for her to keep track of every woman working in the field in Nashville.

But again, that’s not to say everything is perfect. Cockhren pointed to a lack of data points measuring where the city stands today as far as the demographics of the industry – an issue I’ve heard raised by others interested in diversity and inclusion. He encouraged attendees of the screening to think through what they can do in their work and lives to drive changes they want to see.

John Wark, Nashville Software School’s founder and president, said his group has always been “intentional” about addressing the lack of diversity in tech while growing Nashville’s overall talent pool. That’s easier to do in an industry that’s growing, Wark said, because you can bring more people in when there’s strong demand and jobs to be filled.

But everyone needs to act with a level of purpose to change things, Wark said.

“If we sit around and wait for somebody else to do something about it … we’re going to be having the same conversation five years from now,” Wark said.


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