Social entrepreneurs in the Bay Area are working to snap Silicon Valley out of its default comfort zone—what Oakland philanthropist and Lotus 1-2-3 founder Mitch Kapor calls its “mirrortocracy”—by revealing the incredible potential that lies within local youth of color.
The largest tech companies’ startling lack of African-American and Latino employees (around 5 percent of the work force) remained virtually unchanged since numbers were first revealed last year. If hiring practices don’t change, today’s African-American and Latino students will miss out on tomorrow’s tens of thousands of local high-paying jobs Silicon Valley will need to fill.
Fortunately, leaders like Kalimah Priforce, founder of Qeyno Labs and the inspiration for my new film Code Oakland, and Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code, are preparing Bay Area youth to change both the face and future use of technology by teaching them coding skills and helping them see themselves as future tech leaders and innovators.
As Kimberly puts it, “It shouldn’t be a privilege to learn how to code.”
Most of the planet has been touched in some way by technology produced in Silicon Valley, but for those who live in the cities physically surrounding this now-hallowed and very pricey slice of land south of San Francisco, the tech industry itself can still feel light years away.
Oakland, for instance, is about 40 miles northeast of Silicon Valley—a typical California commute—but for its black residents, the rapid growth of a massive new industry next door has not translated into jobs.
African Americans are the largest demographic group in Oakland, but they represent only 2 percent of Silicon Valley tech workers. Huge companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter recruit far and wide, then help new employees—who are predominantly white or Asian and male—take advantage of the relatively cheaper housing in Oakland by providing them with extravagant buses to make their commutes easier. It puts a whole new twist on the concept of “busing.”
Many tech companies—including Google and Salesforce—are supporting and even creating organizations like Qeyno Labs and Black Girls Code, which is a great step in the right direction. But let’s hope there are some major leaps towards inclusion sooner rather than later to tap the potential already here, bring new ideas and vantage points to the tech industry and help strengthen neighboring communities.
As teenager Isaiah Martin, also featured in “Code Oakland,” points out in this extended version of the panel discussion:
Companies like Google and Facebook, they’re very powerful and also very progressive companies…(but) they need more diversity…that brings different ideas and different approaches with how to progress your business.
Hey Silicon Valley, do you hear that? The future is knocking on your door.