RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – The work of diversity and inclusion is hard work, said Gina Loften, the chief technology officer for Microsoft US, in a keynote address last week at the Diversity + Inclusion in Tech Summit organized by the North Carolina Technology Association (NC TECH).

Loften, a native North Carolinian who attended the North Carolina School of Science & Mathematics (NCSSM) in Durham, then North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, told the virtual audience of nearly two hundred attendees that though it required hard work, courage, and leadership.

“There’s great opportunity across the entire tech sector to understand that representation matters,” Loften explained.

Loften knew she wanted to be a senior executive, she told the audience, and she knew it early.

Build, and use, your voice early in your career, she advised young technology professionals, in particular, women. “You have the opportunity to now speak up,” said Loften, articulating that it is okay to ask for help in doing so.

Tech CEO says he’ll use ‘quotas’ to drive gender diversity; lawyer warns he may face legal challenge

“As a leader, it’s my responsibility to have a voice where others don’t really have a voice,” said Loften.

For leaders seeking to advance a diversity, inclusion, and equity framework in their own workforce and in their leadership teams, the development process must start early, and the pool must be selected, intentionally, to be diverse.  Leaders can, today, make a commitment to helping people from diverse backgrounds rise within the ranks of an organization, noted Loften, “because we know you have to become a manager before you can become that senior executive.”

It’s also true that companies, and senior leaders, can play an important role in communities and in society, said Loften, noting that it is especially important to make sure that children are supported.

One of the greatest contributors to inequity, said Loften, is the lack of access that underserved communities have to the things that more privileged people or more privileged communities do have, like broadband internet, reliable transportation, financing options to fund and grow a small business, and access to affordable healthcare.

Here’s what several Triangle companies are doing to boost diversity in tech