Is tech industry making progress on diversity?

Is tech industry making progress on diversity?

SAN FRANCISCO — Last fall I wrote a guest column for USA TODAY: “Three questions about diversity in tech.”

The article was in reaction to the pervasive lack of diversity at technology companies.

The three questions I asked were: What diversity initiatives are these companies launching? Will anything really change? What’s next?

Here’s an update.

What diversity initiatives have been launched?

We’ve seen Intel and Apple put millions of dollars behind efforts to increase their pipeline of talent. Google for Entrepreneurs (GFE) launched its Next Wave program with CODE2040’s Residency program and other GFE tech-hub partners. My colleagues at Black Founders were awarded an innovation grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation to Support Entrepreneurship at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, a program called Black Founders’ HBCUHacks.

To continue to add fuel to the conversation, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Push Coalition held the Push Tech 2020 Conference. This included a start-up pitch contest powered by BUILDUP, Black Founders, Code2040 and Latino start-up Alliance. There’s some movement on the policy side as well, with new White House initiatives and the Engine diversity tech caucus.

Google has been “embedding engineers” at historically black colleges and universities, and employees can use their 20% time to support diversity efforts. Not to be left out of the conversation, Facebook held a diversity mixer before its F8 developers conference in which BUILDUP was one of the partners.

Other companies, such as Yelp and Twitter, continue to support diversity and inclusion organizations in several ways, such as providing their locations to host key events and discussions. Many tech companies have hired new diversity and inclusion staff. I’ve joined Galvanize, a San Francisco-based educational company and start-up hub, as its diversity and inclusion adviser, along with Melinda Epler, CEO and founder of Change Catalyst.

There is also growing attention to women in tech. The Ellen Pao lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers dominated tech headlines while exposing what life can be like in the male-dominated world of venture capital.

We’re beginning to see more positive portrayals of women in tech articles, along with a new wave of women-founded start-ups and new investor teams such as Twitter Angels and Aspect Ventures.

Two recent initiatives garnering a lot of press are Digital Undivided’s #ProjectDiane, which identifies black women founders, and the tech women #choosepossibility report that is creating an impressive list of women who have built tech companies successfully in the Valley for the last 20 years.

Will anything really change?

The good news is yes, a lot has already changed in terms of awareness, conversation and mindset. In terms of actual data in the workforce and funding for underrepresented groups, that remains to be seen.

EBay is the first company to release its 2015 numbers. After one year, the company increased diversity for minorities and women by 1%, with Hispanics unchanged. EBay remains largely white (60%, down from 61% last summer) and male (57%, from 58%). It’s going to be a long, hard road but the needle is moving.

What’s next?

Last fall, I mentioned collaboration and capital are the keys to large-scale change. Collaboration is just starting to happen. In September, companies across tech will come together to share best practices and together create solutions at the Tech Inclusion conference, hosted by Change Catalyst and Galvanize.

My company BUILDUP recently announced a five-week technical workshop series with Google, Uber, Twitter, TechCrunch and Galvanize. Our goal is to prepare individuals from underrepresented groups for careers in technology and entrepreneurship. The workshop series hosted at Galvanize runs from May 26 to June 24.

As for the capital side for underrepresented groups in tech, we’re still a long way off. The angel investor and venture capital world could use some of Google’s unconscious bias training.

The good news is as awareness around the lack of investment capital going to minority founders increases, we’re seeing two trends.

One trend is that more high-net worth minority individuals are looking to learn about tech investments. Seeing this opportunity, Manos Accelerator, which focuses on Latino tech start-ups, hosts an angel bootcamp that trains credited individuals how to make investments in early stage start-ups.

The second trend is that new minority-owned seed funds and venture capital firms are being founded, such as Cross Culture VC, which is led by Lady Gaga’s former manager Troy Carter and Intel Capital partner Marlon Nichols.

With a more diverse investor landscape and more minority tech founders building start-ups, hopefully by the end of the year we’ll be reading about new innovations and “unicorn” start-ups that were founded by minorities.

Wayne Sutton is a serial entrepreneur and general partner at BUILDUP, which mentors, educates and connects underrepresented minorities in technology.


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