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Ryan Bird, left, helps Adam Arellano with training at Techtonic Academy in Boulder on Wednesday.

Diversity in tech: By the numbers

72 percent of tech leaders say diversity is important

81 percent think diversity increases innovation

23 percent believe increased diversity improves financial performance

12 percent of tech companies have five or more women or minorities employees

56 percent have one to four diverse workers

32 percent have no non-male or non-white staffers

Source: TechStars

A new report from Boulder-born TechStars finds that — despite nearly a decade of focus on the lack of diversity in the tech world — nearly a third of new companies still have no women or minorities on their team.

The results of the national survey, conducted this summer by Colorado-based Lawless Research to 680 tech founders of companies seven years old or less, were released Tuesday at Denver Startup Week.

Among the findings were that 32 percent of companies employ no women or minorities; 56 percent have between one and four diverse workers; and only 12 percent boast five or more non-white or female staffers.

This despite the fact that 72 percent of those surveyed believe that having diverse team is important.

That statistic indicates that while founders are aware of the problem and want to do something about it, they "need more tools to address the issues," said Julie Penner, a director of the Boulder TechStars program.


That was the real point of the report, Penner said, to provide a "how-to" from companies that are maintaining diversity to those who are struggling with it.

She remains hopeful that, while change has been slow, it is on the horizon.

"The conversation has never been louder," she said.

That isn't encouraging to Heather Terenzio, who sees the response from the tech community as a lot of talk but very little action.

"I've been reading in papers for years that we're making this big push to get women and minorities in tech, but what are they really doing to get people in the space?" she asked. "Maybe writing some checks, but when it comes to hiring people it's 'Let's talk about our fooseball table and kombucha on tap' but nobody's really doing anything innovative."

It was that lack of innovation that was the catalyst for Techtonic Academy, which Terenzio oversees. The program reaches into untapped communities — veterans, high school dropouts, those with criminal backgrounds, at-risk youth and women — and pairs them with software developers for six-month, paid apprenticeships.

For their efforts, Techtonic was the first tech firm in Colorado to be included on the Labor Department's official list of apprenticeship programs.

"I feel like when companies talk about getting minorities into tech, they're talking about fighting over the small pool of minorities who graduate from elite schools with computer science degrees," or poaching them from competitors, Terenzio said.

That demonstrates that they care about the issue, but not enough to create new solutions, she said.

Leaders certainly recognize some benefits of diversity: 81 percent of tech founders believe that diversity increases innovation.

But other benefits aren't widely known. Only 23 percent of founders realize that diversity positively impacts the bottom line.

In fact, companies with at least three women in top management positions experienced 36 percent greater stock growth than companies lacking gender diversity, according to a 2007 study by consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

"Three is the magic number," said Betsy Moszeter, chief operating officer at Boulder wealth management firm Green Alpha Advisors.

Companies with at least three women on the board or in leadership positions also have meetings that start on time, with higher attendance, among other things.

"We have to get beyond that place of having just the token female," she said.

Shay Castle: 303-473-1626, or