The lack of racial diversity in Silicon Valley has been a topic of discussion for a long time. While America is quickly becoming a minority-majority country, this is not reflected in the high tech capital of the world. According to a CNN Money report, whites make up 64 percent of employees at technology firms Dell, Ingram Micro and Intel, followed by Asians comprising of 20 percent. African-Americans and Hispanics make up roughly 12 and 14 percent of the U.S. population respectively; but they represent less than 10 percent of the workforce combined in those firms. CNN Money also asked other tech giants including Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook to submit their racial diversity numbers, but they refused, claiming they don’t make such information public.
So what are the reasons for the racial disparities? Well, there are a host of issues, including a lack of tech role models of color and poor STEM education in most American schools. Furthermore, while people of color are huge consumers of social media and tech gadgets; unfortunately, that tech consumption among them doesn’t translate into tech creation.
Tech entrepreneur Tristan Walker talks more about the diversity challenges in the tech world.
Considering the high unemployment rates among African-Americans and Hispanics in the United States, exploring how to train and add more qualified diverse employees at tech firms has become more important than ever. Luckily, there have been many efforts to change the racial composition in Silicon Valley, like the Hidden Genius Project, an Oakland, Calif.- based program that aims to get more young African-American males involved in tech entrepreneurship, UX design and software engineering. The program has become so popular that it has exceeded the space needed for the high demand of students wanting to join. Hidden Genius wants to now do programming year round, increase student intake and add chapters in other cities.
“With our youth in particular, there aren’t a whole lot of role models you can point to,” says Tracy Moore, one of the Hidden Genius Project’s nine founding volunteer mentors. “If you look at most media, the only people you really see are sports stars and entertainers so that’s where a lot of their efforts are really focused.”
In San Francisco Chris Cruz, a Filipino-American, and Isaac Reed, an African-American, are the co-founders of Zuggol, a startup that built an app that allows users to set a personal goal and track progress toward that goal. Those goals could relate to any of these six categories: art, business, fitness, fashion, education and music. The app was released in February 2013.
Both men have said that they have also experienced rough times since starting their firm in 2011. Not only the usual stress of starting a business, but also having to deal with racial isolation in Silicon Valley.
From New America Media:
…“Sometimes I’ll talk to people and say I’m a programmer, or I develop — but if I say that I coded Objective-C in six months, then they will pay attention to me. If I don’t, I’ll usually get ignored,” says Cruz.
“It’s also disheartening to see, for me especially, [that] I am the only African American at many of the [tech] events I go to,” adds Reed. “Sometimes I see African American women, but… the males, you don’t see any.”
Cruz once tested the environment by changing his appearance to see how people would treat him. “If I let my hair grow out, I’ll look more Caucasian. But if I’m shaved I get completely ignored because it seems like the people [in tech companies] keep to themselves a lot at many of the startups, especially all the mixers that I go to.” As a result, the men have stopped going to industry mixers, a crucial environment for networking opportunities and pitching ideas….
Because of this isolation, the men have stopped attending professional networking events, and focused their time on building their firm, which now comprises of 20 employees, nearly all of them are also people of color. They also say their user base is growing 10 percent every week while they continue to fundraise and secure investment deals.
“I feel like we’re the underdogs and that Isaac and I are doing it for our people,” says Cruz. “I feel we have our ethnicities on our shoulders in the tech industry.”