Lately, the news has been flooded with stories on the lack of diversity in the tech industry.
In February, Forbes reported that the shortage of women in blockchain is impacting tech at large. Not long after, Wired published a piece on the dearth of women and minorities in tech. And around that same time, leaders from Snap, Google, and several other tech companies proposed strategies for founders, investors, and engineers to boost inclusivity in the tech space.
But the issue is more nuanced and complicated than many mainstream outlets report.
Diversity is a difficult subject to tackle because socioeconomic status can be as much of a barrier as race or gender, and it’s often overlooked.
The knowledge and wealth necessary to achieve success in tech is often limited to those of a certain economic background. Namely, those with higher education and ample internet access.
My experiences in tech and building design and planning have made one thing clear: if we want things to change, those in power need to invest resources in communities that have systematically been denied access to technology and education.
We need to spread knowledge and awareness from the ground up.
Change starts by understanding the systems that hold people back.
Tech companies often focus on race and gender as the sole indicators of diversity and equality.
In my opinion, systematic socioeconomic inequality is just as important.
To the average person, “diversity” denotes people of different races and ethnicities. But a recent report by a Washington think tank suggests that economic segregation also has a major impact on the population’s equality, particularly for lower-income residents.
What’s more, equality reformers have argued that economic segregation in housing is just as harmful as explicit racial segregation. It effectually excludes large swathes of people of color from adequate housing with the law’s consent.
Personally, I’ve seen how urban planning can uphold inequality by manipulating voting districts or denying access to education. And the Fair Housing Act, which makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race in housing transactions, has done little to alter mortgage approvals and home values in black neighborhoods since its passage in 1968.
It’s crucial for us to understand the systems that create inequality in order to address it.
The tech industry must recognize their involvement in furthering inequality.
The biggest barrier to blockchain access is socioeconomic status. For instance, Bitcoin is uniquely concentrated among the uber-rich.
It was recently reported that most of the world’s digital currency is owned by just a couple thousand wallets. This cluster of wealth gives a select group incredible power, and in turn maintains the systematic inequality that proponents of digital currency claim it’s meant to redress.
If you’re well-off, you typically aren’t worried about your safety or how to get food on the table. You have more time and resources to go online and educate yourself about digital currency.
You’re also more likely to be formally educated, and to know people who are formally educated. You’re starting with a leg-up. In much the same way, people born in wealthy neighborhoods have access to better education and increased earning potential.
In other words, the universe of digital currency is not immune from the structures that cause inequality throughout society.
We have to find ways to connect with people of all backgrounds.
At this year’s Blockchain Week New York City, I attended a conference about using art as a tool to relate to large groups of people through social media and interactive experiences in their communities.
But the overall message also advocated for a community-level, grassroots effort to educate people about cryptocurrency.
If a bodega or taxi driver tells me they don’t take cryptocurrency, I can show them how it works and how to download a wallet. This is an easy way to get people involved. I’ve seen and heard of many instances of this happening at the ground level.
For example, after learning about Bitcoin payment from his clients, Puerto Rican Taxi company owner Jose Santana Torres became heavily involved in Puerto Rico’s emerging crypto economy. Ever since accepting his first Bitcoin payment, he’s made learning more about cryptocurrency a priority. Now, all his cabs accept Bitcoin and various other forms of digital currency.
These stories show that change must often happen from the ground up.
More people need to get involved to collectively push for a better balance.
In the past, I’ve held managerial roles in which I’ve had access to information that others lacked. Once you have this power, it’s human nature to want to hold onto it.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
I firmly believe in recognizing differences in order to overcome them, a counterpoint to America’s post-racial myth that dominated the popular imagination before Trump’s election.
Now, the seams of inequality are better exposed. If we want to change the status quo, it’s crucial to acknowledge the systems that keep society unequal, even when it’s uncomfortable.
Radical change will require investing in education and communities that have been historically and systematically disenfranchised.
Urban planning can also help reorganize communities so that residents have better access to education and professional opportunities.
We have to continue sharing information at a grassroots level and bringing more people online. While those in power need to invest in resources for those who don’t have access to or knowledge about the space, ultimately, it’s up to all of us.