The agenda for Fortune’s annual Brainstorm TECH conference, held earlier this month in Aspen, CO, focused mainly on disruption—how big and small companies are preparing for the future and using new technologies and processes to prosper.
One of the biggest sub-themes to emerge from the discussions, however, was diversity and inclusion.
Building on recent news from the tech industry—including gender bias and harassment allegations at ride-hailing app Uber and at some tech-investment firms—the conference sponsored a town hall discussion on “Fixing Inequality in Silicon Valley.” Panelists were sprinkled throughout the audience for the program, which was moderated by Emily Chang, an anchor for Bloomberg television.
Participants floated proposals like asking companies to adopt a variant on the “Rooney Rule”, named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney. That is a National Football League policy requiring teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and some other senior positions. Some at the Fortune panel suggested making sure women and minorities were represented on interview slates for all senior positions at tech companies, and on corporate boards.
There was also a heated debate over how much women in the tech industry help each other to succeed. OpenTable Chief Executive Christa Quarles said she believes top female tech executives work hard to support one another. There is a “sisterhood of women” who share board opportunities and business ideas, she said, noting that younger millennial women are even more focused on these activities.
A separate panel at the conference called “Innovating with Purpose” focused more broadly on company culture, and new research showing that more employees expect their companies to be mission-driven and take stances on some policy and community issues. But panelists there also spent time mulling diversity and gender bias, and debated how to move more women and minorities into senior leadership roles at companies.
Battery Ventures sponsored a high-level, executive dinner for 32 CEOs, founders, journalists, investors and others on the second night of the conference, where participants discussed diversity as well as other conference topics such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and consumer tech.