CXO

This startup may have the key to greater diversity in tech

MongoDB is affordable offering childcare at its conference, pointing to possible solutions for tech's diversity problem.

Most employers can barely muster on-site day care for kids, so it's pretty surprising (and awesome) to see MongoDB offering childcare services at its upcoming MongoDB World 2017 conference. With the US labor force participation rate of parents with children under the age of six swelling to roughly 95% (men) and 70% (women), offering parents the option of bringing their kids with them to a conference could be the difference between attendance or remaining at home. Other forward-thinking organizations like the Linux Foundation have also started to offer such services.

Which brings me to a personal crusade. We often talk about the need for more diversity in tech, but we tend to do very little to actually enable it, specifically as regards working mothers. Unless we're willing to change working arrangements, we basically pay lip service to gender diversity that we never intend to deliver on.

Leading in several ways

In recent years, traditional databases like Oracle have come under sustained pressure from NoSQL and cloud-hosted databases. One analysis from Samadhi Partners, for example, has argued that "the $29.6 billion commercial database market [will] contract[] 20-30% by 2021," which will disproportionately impact Oracle, due to an inability to "transition its revenue streams (from legacy commercial database to cloud-based subscription offerings) fast enough to offset the decline of this market, which represents a major legacy core of its revenue."

MongoDB, the long-time NoSQL leader, is at the forefront of new-school database vendors putting the hurt to Oracle. Importantly, MongoDB isn't content to just change the way we work with data, but is also trying to change the way we think about business, period.

SEE MongoDB and Cassandra put relational databases on notice (TechRepublic)

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One prominent example is MongoDB's decision to open up attendance to its big user conference, following the company's realization that it was pricing students, independents, and others out of the event. Having worked at MongoDB for a few years, I can say that the company has no trouble selling tickets. Dropping the price for those who qualify is simply part of the company's ethos: Inclusion.

That shines through most clearly, however, in its offer of low-cost ($50/day), high-quality childcare at MongoDB World. As MongoDB senior director Meghan Gill told me, "MongoDB is dedicated to improving the gender ratio in technology and ensuring that underrepresented groups have access to our events. It is our hope that on-site childcare and a nursing room for new mothers will make it easier for parents to attend MongoDB World and further their education about MongoDB."

Classy.

As the father of four, I would love to have had this same service available at the different events I've attended over the years. It would have given me a way to share my work with my kids. While MongoDB isn't alone in offering this (a variety of open source events do, including the one mentioned above and an entire kids program at OSCON in the past), it will hopefully offer an example for other conferences to follow.

More than a nice gesture

For some, particularly working mothers, this isn't just a nice-to-have—it's a requirement if they're going to participate at all. With more than two-thirds of US women with children 6 years old or older now in the workforce—the same women serving as the primary caregiver in their homes—as an industry, we're basically telling them to choose between family and career every time we launch a conference.

SEE IdeaFestival 2016: How soon will virtual reality change the way we work? (TechRepublic)

We do the same thing when we refuse to offer flexible working arrangements that enable employees to deliver value to their employers while not sacrificing their families. Just look at the backlash caused by Yahoo nixing telecommuting back in 2013. If you think this isn't an issue, visit the HR department of just about any technology company and ask them about their policies on part-time employment. Few will have them, preferring to hire full-time employees or, if part-time, to shunt them off as part-time contractors.

Amazon, despite its reputation for a ruthless work environment, is at the forefront of piloting part-time working. Even better, such employees get the benefits of a full-time employee. Programs like these give working mothers (or fathers) a realistic way to more easily juggle work and family.

As Anna Wiener covered in the New Yorker, there are a variety of excuses the industry makes for its failure to hire diverse talent. But the fact that half of all women leave tech within 10 years is almost criminal. By providing childcare at a tech conference like MongoDB, or by offering part-time work programs like Amazon, technology companies can finally start to deliver on the diversity they've long promised.

Also see

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Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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