Wayne Sutton: Three questions about diversity in tech

Wayne Sutton: Three questions about diversity in tech

SAN FRANCISCO — My company, BUILDUP, is an accelerator launching in 2015 that is focused on inclusion, education and access for all individuals looking to launch the next great start-up.

Ever since Google and other high-tech companies began releasing diversity work force numbers earlier this year, we have been fielding three questions:

One: What diversity initiatives are these companies launching?
Two: Will anything really change in Silicon Valley?
Three: What comes next?

Here’s my take.

One: These are the diversity initiatives high-tech companies should launch.

Almost every company that released diversity figures points to a list of efforts to make its work force more diverse. If this is not just lip service to the issue, it’s a great first start. But much more is needed.

It’s clear from the data that there’s a “pipeline” problem, meaning not enough women and minorities are entering the high-tech field. High-tech companies should form partnerships with organizations that will give them access to top talent.

It’s about creating better companies and products. It’s also about creating opportunities for diverse minds.

Kids today are a hackathon away from learning how to build an app or getting involved with robotics through youth-targeted programming such as Black Girls Code, YesWeCode, Level Playing Field Institute, Hack the Hood and the Hidden Genius Project.

For college students, CODE2040 leads the way in providing black and Latino software engineering students internships with top tech companies.

And for adults, there is an initiative for every demographic.

For the Hispanic community, there’s Latino Startup Alliance and Manos Accelerator. Both organizations focus on educating Latinos in tech and entrepreneurship.

For women, there’s Women Who Code, Girls in Tech, Girl Develop It, Women’s Startup Lab and the Pipeline Fellowship, all of which focus on supporting women entrepreneurship from learning coding skills to how to invest in women founders.

For African-Americans, there are organizations such as Black Founders that foster entrepreneurship and support tech founders.

There are also conferences and crowdfunding groups that focus on diversity such as Platform and sites such as Fund Dreamer that focus on women and diversity groups.

With the above organizations and more, there’s no excuse for any tech company not to empower the younger generation via STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) initiatives.

I would challenge each organization that has released a diversity report to take a good look at the pipeline and find a strategic way to get involved. Start with the youth and work your way up.

Two: Will anything really change? There is hope.

Without a fundamental change in culture and a shift in priorities among high-tech leaders, it’s highly likely that things will pretty much stay the same.

Blacks and Hispanics make up a tiny fraction of the tech work force and women don’t fare much better. And, even when women and minorities are hired into tech companies, many don’t stay.

For people looking for a quick and simple solution, there isn’t one. It could take five to 10 years or more to see diversity workplace numbers increase. And that kind of movement will take a lot of work.

But there is hope.

Google is beginning to tackle unconscious bias.

Pandora, whose gender diversity is leaps and bounds above most tech companies with a work force that is nearly half female, formed partnerships with women organizations such at Women2.0.

A few consultants are focusing on diversifying tech by targeting leadership behavior change and organizational culture change, mostly from the executive coaching and organizational change management industries.

There is also signs of hope in the global economy as we’re seeing more start-ups from Africa being backed by Silicon Valley organizations.

Mountain View, Calif.-based technology accelerator 500 Startups just accepted its second start-up from Africa.

And while change may or may not happen in Silicon Valley, the mindset of the American culture is changing.


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