IEEE Panel: Diversity discussion explores improving corporate culture

“At Google we had 62 conference rooms, each named after a scientist. Only two were named after women,” admitted Judith Williams, founder of Magic Deer Consulting, and former head of diversity at both Google and Dropbox. “We changed half of them to women’s names — and what started as a symbol of exclusion became an opportunity for inclusion.”

During a panel at IEEE N3XT’s event on diversity on Thursday night at the Ace Hotel — part of Life Sciences Week 2018 in Pittsburgh — Williams explained that eventually Google employees began bringing their children in to see the rooms and discover the work of these female scientists.

For the panel, Williams and New York-based consultants Kelly Hoey and Dillan DiGiovanni joined Alicia Varughese of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse to share diversity ideas with an audience made up largely of tech people from the Pittsburgh area. Among the ideas shared by the panel:

  • It’s tough to notice whether you’re being open. So look at the data because it could expose bias. Then put a system in place to process it and instill it in your culture. Williams: “Own the culture!”
  • Veraghese: Women often don’t have enough women mentors; search for them.
  • Williams: There’s a difference between mentorship and sponsorship. Mentorship is what happens when you’re in the room. Sponsorship is when someone is willing to stake their reputation on your success. You want both.
  • Hoey: If you only hire a small circle of friends that are just like you, you won’t get a diversity of opinions or contacts. So diversify your network. (Williams adds that by doing that, “you’re also diversifying your blind spots.”)

AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup Winner is designing a future without screens

Somatic Labs from Phoenix took home the $50,000 Grand Prize in the 2018 AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup on Thursday, another event that took place at the Ace Hotel. The company developed a platform that uses the sense of touch to convey information such as alerts, instructions and directions through patterns that move across the skin.

Somatic’s CEO, Shantanu Bala, says they’ll be using their products within environments in which vision and hearing are overloaded, such as industrial locations, military activities and sports. Their products can attach to helmets, goggles and other wearable devices. Somatic Labs had previously won the Hardware Cup Southern Regional Competition to make it to the International Finals.

Second prize went to Lilu, the East Coast Region finalist, which has developed a product to help nursing mothers. Third prize went to Lumir, a social enterprise from Korea that plans to make lighting more available and affordable in Indonesia and other regions where much of the population doesn’t have access to electricity.

The Hardware Cup is unique in relation to other pitch events that happen throughout the year in Pittsburgh. Conceived in 2015 by Ilana Diamond of AlphaLab Gear, the competition is for hardware-only products and happens in cities around the world. The finals are held in Pittsburgh, focusing attention not only on the products and companies, but also on the city as a technology leader.

This year, AlphaLab Gear partnered with IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) for the first time in coordinating and presenting the event. Leah Simoncelli, who has coordinated the program since 2017, tells Nextpittsburgh that she expects the IEEE and other partnerships to extend the event in future years, as they have networks in more than 100 cities worldwide.

According to Terri Glueck of Innovation Works, AlphaLab Gear and Innovation Works staff conduct “Investor Day” the day after the finals, to help connect the winners to investors and resources that can push them forward as they grow.