LISTEN: This is how we end structural racism in the tech industry

A conversation about diversifying Silicon Valley — and beyond — with Laura Weidman Powers and Code2040

Mar 2, 2018 · 2 min read
Laura Weidman Powers(Credit: Helena Price)

When Laura Weidman Powers came to Silicon Valley she was shocked by the lack of diversity in what was supposed to be the land of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Born and raised on the East Coast, Powers grew up in diverse neighborhoods and schools. Her mother is black, her father white. She got her degrees from Harvard and then Stanford and ultimately took a job at a tech firm which itself was diverse. But when she started to attend conferences and look around at what comprised the technology industry, she was alarmed by its uniformity. The explanation she was often given for why much of the tech industry lacked diversity was “that’s what the talent looks like,” and that there just weren’t “talented people of color to hire.”

But that narrative rang false to her. And she was troubled because, as she sees it, “every type of company is going to be either tech-driven or tech-enabled depending on what they’re building. Car companies are tech companies today. Media companies are tech companies today. And so this skill set is going to be in demand across the entire economy. So we think the stakes are pretty high to get this right and to actually open up pathways for folks to succeed both in the companies that exist and the companies that will be dominating the industry in the future.”

Powers sees this as an enormous problem because “if we’re shutting Black and Latinx people out of technology today, that’s effectively shutting us out of the economy tomorrow.”

Powers’ own story isn’t a started-from-the-bottom one, but she is aware of the many hurdles she might have faced had people not gone before her. Powers founded Code2040 with Tristan Walker to smooth the pathways into tech for entrepreneurs of color. They named their organization for a major demographic shift — the year 2040 will be the start of the decade when people of color will be the majority in the U.S.

Powers feels this work — bringing more people of color into leadership positions in tech — is the work she needs to do. Having always been interested in systems’ change, she’s leading a racial and economic equity organization that’s considering how it can “fundamentally change the way the economy works for communities of color.”

Listen to the conversation:

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Alaura Weaver

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