Diversity and inclusion are Vancouver tech community’s ‘superpowers-in-waiting’
June 17, 2022
By Vancouver Sun |
Vancouver may have one of the fastest-growing technology sectors in North America, but one local tech leader believes that the city must become more diverse and inclusive if it wants to be a true global powerhouse in this space.
“For all our success, we are only scratching the surface of potential for the city’s tech ecosystem in terms of growth and global influence,” says Mansur Mirani, vice-president of Mastercard’s Global Intelligence and Cyber Centre of Excellence, the financial technology company’s tech hub in the city.
Central to unlocking this potential is an increased focus by technology companies on diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives. “Not just because it’s the right thing to do,” adds Mirani. Greater D&I among talent at technology companies allows these firms to design and develop superior software and hardware with improved functionality and more robust security.
Indeed, the city is already a technology success story, he adds.
Business consulting firm CBRE Group Inc. reported last year, for example, that Vancouver is the third fastest growing technology hub in North America, trailing only Toronto and Seattle.
“The world’s biggest tech companies are moving here, regularly adding thousands of jobs to our local economy and attracting high-skilled talent from all over the world,” he says. “Sounds great, right?”
Yet CBRE also found Vancouver’s tech labour force is overwhelmingly male (73 per cent) and white (54 per cent).
“This is a business and strategic vulnerability that our tech community has to grapple with fast if we want to continue our upward trajectory,” Mirani says.
The reason is not because the existing tech labour force is unskilled. Rather, homogenous talent often lacks diverse viewpoints and lived experience, which limit “genuine, game-changing innovation,” he explains.
Challenges for facial recognition and biometrics technology — which is used in everything from smartphones to airport security — illustrate of how a lack of diversity among programmers and designers leads to inferior product performance and unintended negative outcomes.
“This powerful AI technology is awesome in theory, until we discover that many of the dominant systems have been pretty bad at accurately identifying non-white users,” he says, pointing to a 2020 Harvard University article highlighting the technology’s shortcomings.
In turn, this leads to “disparity with consequences ranging from inconvenient to life-altering and discriminatory, Mirani further adds, pointing to a New York Times investigation noting wrongful arrests of visible minorities arising from errors by facial recognition technology.
While these flaws can be reversed, a better strategy is to avoid these issues altogether by using more diverse development teams.
Yet too many companies still consider D&I initiatives a “nice to have” rather than “table stakes,” he adds.
Diversity and inclusion play a foundational role at Mastercard Inc.’s Mastercard Global Intelligence and Cyber Centre of Excellence — known locally as Mastercard’s Vancouver Tech Hub.
Mastercard views D&I as “a competitive edge in the quality and ingenuity of the intellectual property (IP) we develop,” Mirani adds.
One of eight international Mastercard technology offices, the Vancouver Tech Hub has a threefold D&I approach to drive cybersecurity innovation, which could act as a road map for other tech companies.
First and foremost is hiring and retaining diverse talent. Since launching in 2020, the Vancouver Tech Hub has hired more than 230 technology workers from diverse backgrounds, Mirani says.
Building a transparent and equitable workplace culture is critical so “workers of every ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or ability can thrive in a barrier-free environment.”
Talent is more likely to stay and build their careers if they know “they are free to do amazing, creative, innovative work,” he says.
The second part is ensuring inclusivity is built into Mastercard technologies.
“When faced with a new cybersecurity challenge, for example, we investigate how gaps or deficiencies in current technologies can be effectively addressed or improved upon in a variety of ways, including — and especially — by making them more inclusive for our customers and end users,” Mirani says.