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Diversity In Tech Still Lags Behind

Recently, the eyes of the tech world were on Austin, Texas for the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference. There, tech heavyweights like Amazon, Uber and Google discussed issues ranging from artificial intelligence to self-driving cars.

The focus of much of the SXSW conference were on issues impacting the companies and industries that participate in the conference. But the gathering of tech leaders gathering at SXSW once again drew attention to one of the challenges that tech companies have faced for years, and a challenge that is garnering more and more attention from policymakers – diversity in tech.

According to an Ascend Foundation report which looked at data aggregated from hundreds of companies, including Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Google, HP, Intel, Twitter and Yelp, there has been scant progress for minorities in the tech industry.

Over the past eight years, Hispanic representation as a percentage of the professional workforce has actually declined. All this despite efforts to hire more underrepresented minorities.

Advocates for increased diversity in tech like Freada Kapor Klein, a partner with Kapor Capital and founder of the Level Playing Field Institute, believe that tech companies are doing it wrong.

Instead of a comprehensive approach from the tech industry, what you see are a “hodgepodge” of one-off efforts that amount to not much to show. The result has been “basically no progress,” according to Ms. Kapor Klein.

Many tech companies often point to a lack of a diverse talent pipeline, saying that there are not enough black and Hispanic students graduating with relevant degrees and applying for tech jobs. Yet data shows that there are many more black and Hispanic students majoring in computer science and engineering than work in tech jobs.

What may be worse is that this lack of progress may not only be the result of an ineffective response from the industry. Recent coverage of the tech diversity issue has cited private statements from diversity advocates who say that technology leaders still have not made diversity an urgent business priority.

Whether it is because of lack of effort or ineffective efforts, in Silicon Valley, blacks and Hispanics only make up between 2 percent and 5 percent of the tech workforce.

Efforts to increase diversity in tech companies are not only happening in Silicon Valley. This past October, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus wrote a letter to 32 top tech companies requesting diversity data for their internal employees and external vendors.

Texas Congressman Julian Castro, who has been a key voice in advocating for more diversity within the technology industry, has taken the initiative to ask the large technology corporations to open spaces for participation to minority groups, especially for hispanics.

“The Hispanic community has played a pivotal role in the social, economy and political development of the United States. Unfortunately, Hispanics are routinely underrepresented and underfunded throughout our nation’s technology sector despite representing the nation’s largest minority group,” he said.

“As we look towards the future, we are well positioned to help lead the way as our economy undergoes transformation. That’s why, last October, CHC Chair Lujan Grisham and I asked 32 of the top technology companies in the county to share their diversity figures. Only when we have a baseline can we start to work towards real improvement.”

In addition, Senator Robert Menendez, who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Diversity Task Force, has been long advocating for increased diversity for companies in tech, telecommunications, finance and entertainment. He has authored several reports based on corporate diversity surveys he has sent to Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies.

Oscar Ramirez, a co-founder at InSight Public Affairs, a government relations firm that advises tech companies in Washington, DC, has worked closely with tech companies on some of these issues.

“The lack of diversity in tech is certainly a problem. I’m not surprised that policymakers are focused on it,” he said. “But I’ve seen first-hand that there are companies that have prioritized this as an issue and are doing everything they can to do better.”

As the tech industry continues to grow each and everyday, million of Americans will become a part of it. Further, how the industry addresses these tech diversity issues will determine whether that fastest growing segments of our population are included in the economic opportunities afforded by the tech industry. Until that happens, policymakers and other diversity advocates will continue to lift up key voices and ensure all Americans are included in such an important part of our country.


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