Tech Inclusion — There’s No App for That

G. K. Butterfield
Oct 24, 2017 · 6 min read

Written by Rep. G. K. Butterfield and Rep. Barbara Lee — Oct. 24, 2017.

After a trip to Silicon Valley, Congressional Black Caucus Diversity Task Force Co-Chairs, Representatives Barbara Lee (CA) and G. K. Butterfield (NC), see little progress on African American inclusion.

Three Trillion. Yes, $3 trillion is the value of the top five U.S tech companies.

Zero. Yes zero, is the estimated median wealth of Black Americans by 2053 if current trends continue.

America, we have a problem.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) launched CBC TECH 2020 in May 2015 to bring together the best minds in the tech, non-profit, and public sectors to increase African American inclusion at all levels of the industry. In August 2015, we went to Silicon Valley to press the case with tech leaders.

Last week, we went back.

Unfortunately, we found the tech industry’s inclusion efforts are sliding back as well.

We visited 8 tech companies, met with black venture capitalists, tech employees, and nonprofit organizations working to build the pipeline (see news articles below).

Our assessment is clear: recruiting Black tech talent is an item on most tech companies’ to-do list, but certainly not near the top. Even worse, creating an environment where Black employees feel included is even lower on the agenda.

The Good

  1. Publishing Some Data: Most companies are publishing at least some of their employee demographic data (though retention numbers should be included as well).
  2. Apprenticeship Programs: Some companies are hosting apprenticeship programs, which generally last longer and have more substantive work than most internships. Upon successful completion, participants in the program will be hired by the company.
  3. HBCU Recognition: Most companies know that they need to build relationships with Historically Black Colleges & Universities (though actual engagement with HBCUs varies widely).
  4. Some Startups “Get It”: Startups and newer companies are prioritizing racial inclusion early in their development, which will benefit the industry in the future.
  5. Grassroots Efforts: There are grassroots efforts to teach technical skills, educate Black applicants on navigating the job interview process, and get young African Americans excited about STEAM.

The Bad

  1. Lack of Innovation & Prioritization: Many companies are not making African American inclusion a priority. They should innovate in this space the same way they do when developing new products. Companies need to compete to be leaders in African American recruitment and retention, ensure pay equity, and support an inclusive work environment.
  2. Lack of Public Diversity Goals: While some companies have stated goals for African American recruitment, many do not. Many companies that have “diversity goals” do not disaggregate targets for recruitment of African Americans and other underrepresented racial groups.
  3. No Plan: Many companies lack a clear plan (or one they were willing to share) to not only increase the numbers of African Americans, but also to improve the company’s climate.
  4. Little Collaboration & Scaling: Companies seem reluctant to agree on, and scale, programs that are actually working. Tech companies are not using their collective power to invest in broader and deeper efforts that successfully increase African American inclusion.
  5. Lack of Agreed Upon Best Practices: Companies need to agree upon what works, invest in those initiatives, and share what does not work so others can avoid the same mistakes.
  6. Inconsistent Promotion & Retention Policies: Lack of transparency in the promotion process, and the biases that play into it, disadvantage African American employees.
  7. Lack of Senior Level Hires: While some companies are slowly increasing African American representation in junior roles, executive level hires are severely lacking.
  8. Broken Employee Referral Systems: The employee referral system currently promotes lack of African American inclusion. When employees refer people from their networks, and their networks are not diverse, then African Americans are disadvantaged in this process. Employees have a financial incentive to refer friends. Hiring managers have an incentive to hire referrals because it speeds the hiring process. This system can undermine diversity recruiting efforts.
  9. Low VC Investment: Investment in Black led venture capital funds and startups remains low. These startups serve as an incubator for the next generation of African American tech leaders.

Tech Company To-Do List

While each company has to develop a plan unique to its challenges and culture, here are some steps all companies can take:

CEOs Must Make African American Recruitment, Retention, Promotion, and Inclusion A Top Priority

  1. CEOs should make a public commitment to increasing racial diversity at all levels of the company and write this into the corporate mission statement and values.
  2. Ensure that executive and hiring mangers receive a diversity scorecard for their respective departments. Require these leaders to report regularly on their progress, and tie compensation and bonuses to the results. Discuss progress regularly during executive and board meetings.
  3. Ensure the leader of the company’s diversity efforts reports to the CEO.
  4. CEOs must practice what they preach by making diverse executive level hires and advocating for adding African Americans to the Board.
  5. Consider racially diverse regions when opening new offices.
  6. Invest in African American vendors, venture capital firms and startups.

Tech Companies Should Work Together

We understand that tech companies are fiercely competitive. But, they can work together on inclusion efforts without giving up their competitive advantage.

  1. Tech CEOs should come together and publicly communicate that domestic diversity recruitment, retention, and inclusion are a priority for the industry, and announce their commitment to investing in bold efforts that will deliver results.
  2. Companies need to work together to identify programs, organizations, and inclusion strategies that actually work. They should promote best practices and share these throughout the industry.
  3. Identify the pipeline programs and investments in STEAM education that are working and pool resources to scale those programs.

Don’t Use “The Pipeline” As An Excuse

  1. Silicon Valley should learn from other regions of the country that have greater tech diversity.
  2. Train Black employees in the company’s non-tech roles to transition to technical roles.
  3. Report your conversion rate of Black applicants to the number you actually give an offer. Also, report the number of offers you make to Black candidates versus the number that actually accept the offer. This data will help companies evaluate how well they are recruiting existing talent.
  4. Provide more transparency to the application and interview processes so Black applicants can better prepare for an unfamiliar process.
  5. Work with Black startups and venture capital funds to help you source talent.
  6. Tap into tech talent that chooses to take jobs in other industries, and in other parts of the country. Invest in efforts to learn why these potential employees are choosing to use their talents elsewhere.

African American inclusion in the tech sector is not just a problem of inclusion, it’s an economic emergency. With the average tech employee salary estimated at $159,600 and the average income of Blacks in San Francisco at $29,500, America clearly has a problem.

The CBC is committed to doing its part.

The question remains, will the most innovative companies in the world do theirs?

News from CBC Silicon Valley Trip

Politico: CBC livid over lack of tech diversity (10/19/2017)

The Hill: Black lawmakers give tech sector low marks amid Silicon Valley trip (10/18/2017)

Politico: CBC kicks office Silicon Valley Tour(10/17/2017)

The Hill: Week ahead in tech: Black Caucus takes diversity push to Silicon Valley (10/16/2017)

ReCode: Black lawmakers will visit Silicon Valley to press Facebook, Twitter and others to improve their diversity (10/13/2017)

Blavity: Black Politicians Head To Sillicon Valley To Confront Tech Titans On Diversity And Russia Ads (10/13/2017)

The Hill: Black lawmakers will travel to Silicon Valley to push diversity (10/12/2017)

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