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Tech’s racial diversity problem meets its day of reckoning

 

Diversity in tech hinges on education, recruitment

Now that companies are actively looking for qualified minorities, the next step is to create a pipeline to put more minorities into tech jobs. That starts with providing young minority students with role models they can identify with, Black tech professionals say.

“It comes down to telling the stories of those in tech who can be the ‘face like me’ that a younger person can find,” Watson said.

Building that pipeline also requires new, positive language to make tech more attractive.

“Too often we attribute an interest in technology to being geeky or white,” said Kevin Wortham, CEO of AssureTech LLC, an IT consulting firm in Largo, Md. “We need to create new labels that encourage our young people that it’s OK to have an interest in technology outside of PlayStation and Xbox.

“We also need to attribute technology to something that is specific and applicable to the wants and desires of the young people in our communities.”

Quotes from several interviewees

In addition, some observers say there is subsurface bias in education that unfortunately leads to Black kids shying away from STEM.

“If you mix in virtually criminal underfunding of schools in minority areas, and both overt and covert exhorting of Black children from STEM into liberal arts, it kills the STEM pipeline for minorities,” Logikworx’s Obeto said.

Obeto, who was born in Nigeria, noted that if foreign-born minorities are excluded from U.S. minority statistics in tech, the numbers would be even more dismal. The situation is especially dire in states like Utah, which is more than 90% white, while only 1.4% of its residents are Black, making it even more difficult to hire Black tech workers locally.

“When you look at the numbers nationwide on diversity in technology, they’re pretty bad,” said Cameron Williams, director of diversity engagement at Domo, a business intelligence tools maker in American Fork, Utah. “But then if you look at the population of Utah, that diversity is terrible.”

As a result, Domo looks for out-of-state talent, he said.

Companies interested in diversity need to change their talent acquisition processes, and one way to do that is “They’re looking at immediate returns,” Morris said. “Many companies don’t have the patience to play the medium-term or long-term game.” The latter mindset is what’s required to find minority job candidates at smaller, often resource-strapped HBCUs, he said.

Employers also need to reject the notion that only certain schools in certain areas of the country have large pools of tech talent, said Everett Harper, founder and CEO of Truss, a software development consultancy headquartered in San Francisco.

“Where are you looking? Georgia Tech is minting engineers. That excuse no longer applies,” Harper said.

Although Truss is based in Silicon Valley, it has developed a diverse workforce The Valley has never been terribly diverse, and many Black people have left San Francisco entirely in recent years, Harper added. Moreover, tech giants such as Facebook and Apple have massive war chests that give them sway in terms of talent recruitment, he said.

The point is to go well beyond arms-length tactics and build new networking relationships, he added.

“If you go and say, ‘Let me find my one Black friend’ [if they know a candidate], that person is being inundated right now with 70 requests, and always has been,” he said.

The lack of diversity in tech goes deeper than just narrow recruitment and less emphasis on STEM in minority school districts. Institutionalized discrimination prevents many Black people from maintaining careers in enterprise IT, said Peter Beasley, executive director of Blacks in Technology, a professional organization.

“Disregard of Black people’s rights in American society, which is also found in tech, leaves some Black people leaving [corporate jobs], saying, ‘I deserve and need better control of my life.'”

Before joining Blacks in Technology, Beasley worked in corporate IT and then founded a Dallas-based configuration management database software company, Netwatch Solutions. But new challenges followed him in the form of disparities in venture funding invested with Black entrepreneurs.

A study released in February Overall, achieving diversity in tech is about much more than just hiring more people of color, Beasley said.

“Corporations have to be intentional, making commitments from the board and CEO, and then backing them up,” he said. “Companies that are intentional put in programs, metrics, training and funding. They ask and listen to Black people. They buy from Black-run companies and people, invest in Black companies, and change policies and procedures. It can’t be just talk about hiring more Black people.”

 

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