Computer Science, diversity, Education, Engineering, Innovation, STEM, Technology

Diversity is the Gateway to Innovation and not a Dirty Word

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D. accepts new role as Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at KU School of Engineering

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D. accepts new role as Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the KU School of Engineering

Steve Jobs, in a 1996 Wired magazine interview, said “Creativity is just connecting things. …A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.”  He went on to say, “The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”  

According to Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, having diverse experiences and perspectives is the key to being able to connect seemingly disparate things and create innovative designs for products or services.  When he hired me as Apple’s first senior engineering diversity manager in 2008, he was letting others know that Apple’s innovation required as many diverse perspectives as possible, including those from diverse backgrounds such as minorities and women.

For some people, diversity is a dirty word.  They think that it means a tech company wants to lower their standards of excellence just to hire a woman or minority. But according to Steve, a tech industry filled with people who have primarily homogeneous experiences, do not have as much to draw from to create innovative solutions that meet customers’ needs.

This summer, I am embarking, Lord willing, on a new chapter in my journey to increase diversity in the tech field as well as in academia.  I recently accepted an offer to become the University of Kansas, School of Engineering’s first Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Charles E. and Mary Jane Spahr Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.  I am thrilled that I will be working to diversify the educational STEM pipeline with hidden gems of talent and ingenuity from all walks of life, including those coming from groups underrepresented in engineering and computer science.  Diversity in tech is not a dirty word, nor is it optional one.  Real innovation demands diversity.

About the Author:

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is a humanoid robotics and artificial intelligence professor at Marquette University and the author of “Out of the Box: Building Robots, Transforming Lives.”  Dr. Williams plans to return to his alma mater, the University of Kansas, to begin a new chapter in his God-given journey to help young people reach their full potential in education and to help communities rebuild families, industry, and healthy lives.  

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