Vast wealth, massive disruption, formidable power — these are just the few of the big-ticket prizes behind some of the doors of the high stakes game known as the tech industry.
For many years, it has been an exclusive, members-only sort of sector but now, new players try to shoulder their way in to a seat at a table brimming with abundance. There’s a new breeze beginning to blow in the thin, exclusive air of the tech giants’ offices in this country, and the direction seems to be that of a call to action for diversity. But with just as many complexities as entrants, how things will truly shake out in the long run is almost anyone’s guess.
The straw that seemed to break the proverbial camel’s back came a few weeks ago when companies such as Google and Yahoo released their diversity statistics. The results were certainly not shocking to people of color currently involved in the tech and tech-related arenas.
Now, there seems to be a bit of arm flailing and hurried activity to create balance and diversity — but it might behoove us all to stop, analyze and ask: Why now?
“Well, (Facebook’s) Sheryl Sandberg helped to create a general conversation about male dominance in the tech world that kind of opened the door to conversations about people of color that was more legitimated inside of the tech space,” offers Van Jones, founding president of Rebuild The Dream and CNN “Crossfire” regular.
“But in addition to this, I think outside of tech, nothing else is actually working. The rest of the economy is tough to find employment in, so the only other powerful place in the economy is Silicon Valley and the tech industry. I think these two things just lined up. If the economy were great, we probably wouldn’t even be talking about this.”
Jones’ organization also spearheads the project #YesWeCode, which aims to train 100,000 low-income youth to become computer professionals in the world in 5-10 years and kicked off a new initiative with Prince during the recent hackathon at the Essence Music Festival.
“We’re an intermediary,” Jones continues. “We’re helping those organizations out here who are focused on training and aim to help them get jobs coding. High potential/low opportunity, under 25.” Considering the number of impressions made at the Essence Music Festival via the hackathon, most would say an impressive first start is under the organization’s belt.
However, there are positions offered in tech that don’t require knowledge in coding such as marketing, publicity, ad sales, business development, and more. So, what happened with diversity in these subdivisions?
Many elements come into play when one begins the discussion of race and workplace. What percentage can be attributed to racism? What percentage to sheer classism? While these two elements are clearly not the cause for the diversity numbers, what impact do they pose?
Here’s a quick snapshot that reflects the sentiment of the majority of comments found on TheHill.com’s site related to a story on the response of certain Congress members to the tech diversity issue. TheHill.com is a policy insider’s daily.
I don’t know why anyone would start a business these days. You can’t even hire people based on merit anymore.. It’s been shown time and time again that human races are not created equal. Just as Asians score better in IQ tests on average than whites, blacks score lower on average than all other groups. You can’t ignore it.
Here are other comments in response to the recent USA Today article on the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley:
This is the most ABSURD direction we’re taking. What this article is implying is that a tech company, to be successful, has to have blacks and women in greater numbers.
Guess what? We’re talking about the most successful tech companies in history, and using their LACK of diversity to suggest that DIVERSITY is necessary for success.
Diversity, in relation to software and electronic equipment, makes no freaking difference to the enduser. The enduser only cares if the product works, and that isn’t going to happen if the company has to focus all of its attention worrying about how many minorities they have employed.
“People say ignorant sh*t online all the time, so I don’t care about that,” says Jones. “That’s not my point of departure into the conversation. Black people have not been focused on tech, and tech people have not been focused on Black people. I don’t think this is solely a case of racist white boys in tech refusing to hire qualified African-Americans and Latinos out of malice. I’m concerned about what we are saying to each other about these opportunities.”
Andreas T. Jackson, who is in the graduate program at Fielding University studying Media Psychology and Social Change — a pioneering course, where he is actually one of the first to formally study the relationship between people and technology via an academic setting, explains:
“A very important part that comes into play with the larger comment landscape is the idea of self-concept. The more we see people around us do something, the more it influences our idea of ourselves. In fact, it seems that certain people’s view of themselves and their circle is exactly what makes certain people gravitate more toward digital (work) or not. If we think we are part of those who are influencers — part of the new group — if that is our concept of ourselves, for instance, then we will be more in the mix. This will have to happen as a movement-of-sorts for such endeavors to more quickly and scale.”
At its root, this whole tech diversity task is about marketing; marketing an entire, seemingly inaccessible, stiff industry to a “sub-culture” so that sub-cultures want to be involved and so that those who are already involved are better marketed to the decision makers. That takes edge and innovation that has not quite yet revealed itself.
Finally, in addition to the psycho-social concerns that are currently under-researched and under-addressed, that of the “sphere of influence” is perhaps the final but crucial missing spoke in the tech diversity wheel.
This would include a strategy around increasing tech board members and staff writers at the powerful tech media outlets, clear pathways for strategic partnerships with tech giants for Black entrepreneurs, and serious discussion about elite fellowships programs — such as that of Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society that creates, promotes and elevates tech thought-leaders/researchers like Danah Boyd, which has not (at least from our research) included one full-time African American female fellow for the last several years.
The legendary Ice Cube once said that it just made sense to have your biggest consumers represented on your staffs and in your deal-making strategy. He just might have something, there.
(Lauren deLisa Coleman is a digi-cultural trend analyst and author. Follow her on Twitter @ultra_lauren or at facebook.com/ultralauren.)