By Niema Jordan
Tuesday evening, BuildUp brought together panelists from a range of tech companies and organizations to discuss how to tackle the industry’s diversity problem. Building Innovation: Creating an Inclusive Technology Ecosystem addressed issues with recruiting, work environment and the computer science education pipeline.
In May, Google released their diversity numbers. The report said that 30 percent of their employees are women, two percent are black and three percent are Hispanic. Soon after, other tech companies began to release their numbers.
“It has been a little bit of the elephant in the room,” said Sarah P. Stuart, Manager, Global Diversity & Inclusion at Google. She noted that efforts to deal with the lack of diversity included working towards an inclusive environment, paying attention to show recruiters are seeking, and making investments in education from primary school through higher education.
While panelists agreed that companies should work on creating a work environment that was not only diverse, but also inclusive, much of the emphasis was on improving the education pipeline for women and underrepresented minorities to enter the computer sciences.
“There are fewer women graduating with degrees in computer science than before,” said Kiva Wilson, Diversity Program Manager at Facebook, noting that the percent of women receiving computer science degrees has dropped from 28 to 18.
In addition to increasing diversity in higher education, panelists said recruiters should reevaluate where they were searching for talent.
“One of the things that I talk about with companies is the hiring criteria,” said Amy Schapiro, Fellowship Program director at CODE2040. “If you are only looking at students from the top 10 programs, you’re going to miss people.”
When looking at startup ventures, Samantha O’Keefe of TechCrunch suggests that investors look beyond trend designs and jargon that are trendy in Silicon Valley. “You have to ask, ‘What is the real product? What is the real value?’” said O’Keefe.
Throughout the evening, participants also noted that it is important for women and underrepresented minorities to see and meet people with shared backgrounds who are currently working in tech.
“If they don’t see themselves represented, they shut it down,” said panelist Leah McGowen-Hare, Master Technical Instructor at SalesForce.com. McGowen-Hare shared that she feels it is her responsibility as an African-American woman in tech to reach out. “It’s extra time, it’s extra effort, but it’s worth it.”
Towards the end of the discussion, the attention was turned to Oakland specifically. Cedric Brown, Managing Partner of the Kapor Center for Social Impact shared four things that the Oakland community should focus on: perception, pipeline, partnerships and policy.
According to Brown, residents have to manage Oakland’s image, focus on education opportunities, build partnerships between companies and organizations, and work for policy that assists with inclusion. “Without housing policy that is going to allow people to live here, this (tech) wave will be a tsunami that’s going to wipe us out,” Brown told the crowd.
The evening ended with a brief question-and-answer session, and with organizers and participants agreeing that there should be more discussions. “The more frequently they happen and the more honest the tone and tenor, the better,” said Wilson.