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Tech So White

Tech So White

If there’s anything we can learn from our alleged post-racial America, it’s that diversity doesn’t happen by osmosis. Intentionality is key. A recent wake-up call came in the guise of Save Our Cities: Powering the Digital Revolution: 2018 State of Black America, the 42nd edition of an annual report released by The National Urban League, a nonpartisan civil rights organization that examines a wide range of data to determine how Black people are doing compared to caucasians.

The report noted, “Racial diversity in social media and technology companies is an area where the equality gap is starkly wider. As reported in the Digital Inclusion Index, in the vast majority of [tech] companies, fewer than 5 percent of the workforce is African-American. By contrast, at least half of the workforce in these companies is white.”

In July 2018, Facebook reported that their employment of Black and Hispanic candidates increased from 2 to 4 percent for Blacks, and 4 to 5 percent for Hispanics. Comparitively, there were significantly higher rates of Asian employment: 41.4 percent of Facebook employees were Asian in 2018.

Dealing with that digital divide and preparing the next generation of color for the upcoming jobs that will be born of the tech revolution requires that Black students be represented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. But the State of Black America reports just 8.2 percent of all degrees Blacks achieved in 2015–2016 were in STEM fields and only 5.7 percent of Blacks employed in 2017 were working in the tech industry. “By contrast,” the report found, “12.8 percent of degrees and certificates conferred to whites were in STEM, and 8.5 percent of white workers were employed in the tech industry.”

“Historically, while great industrial breakthroughs have profited our nation, African-Americans have often been exploited, rather than elevated by these advancements,” National Urban League president and CEO Marc H. Morial said. “Fortunately, the digital revolution is still in its youth — and ripe with potential for Black Americans. While it has positioned itself such that the barriers of entry are few and low, the findings of the National Urban League’s 2018 Digital Inclusion Index are unambiguous: we must separate the signal from the noise.”

Young Black Americans are choosing to enter STEM fields more than ever, yet historically Black colleges and universities continue to receive and spend fewer research and development dollars per student compared to other universities. The report found that the average HBCU “receives just 10.2 percent of the federal per student R&D funds that go to non-HBCUs and spends just 7.9 percent of what the average non-HBCU spends on R&D per student.”

While the funding problem is a bigger fish to fry, companies can help by reaching out to Black and Latinx communities, and by creating systems that engage Black and Latinx students. It’s not enough to just hire qualified candidates, tech companies need to help develop talent in America’s Black and Latinx communities by investing in these neighborhoods. If there were as many opportunities readily available for Black and Latinx students as there are for their white or Asian counterparts to engage in STEM learning, we might start seeing equity further along in the tech employment pipeline. If Silicon Valley companies would do their due diligence in ensuring their level of engagement with Black America, maybe such a shift would occur sooner than later.

Instead of looking at young Black and Latinx people simply as consumers, or as a source of profit, why not look at them as intelligent, passionate future job candidates that will benefit (as will the company) by investment in their education and training? Companies like Facebook could learn a thing or two from thinking outside the box — the white box that is.

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