Diversity in Tech: How to Attract More Minority Students into Tech Careers? Start By Asking Them!
If you've been hiding under a rock for the past year, when a cavalcade of Silicon Valley workplace transparency reports were released, here's the news: Most high tech jobs and leadership positions tend to be held by white men.
Diversity is a problem in Silicon Valley, and now it's a self-acknowledged one: This year, Intel committed to a plan, plus $300 million in funding for education, to transform its workplace to "reach full representation at all levels" within five years. Apple is updating its emoji -- the graphical characters that began as text-based smiley faces -- to include six skin tone options (obviously everyone's doing their part).
The representation gap in Silicon Valley is rooted in STEM education (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), where for Latinos and Blacks, single-digit statistics in AP Computer Science exam participation, for example, closely mirror national employment levels in high tech jobs.
So the big question is how to excite young minority students into STEM fields of study, and thus into high tech careers. Looking for answers, the Creating IT Futures Foundation did a novel thing: asking them.
In the survey "Teen Views on Tech Careers" released this week by the foundation, urban Black and Hispanic teens from low to middle-income backgrounds were surveyed about future careers.
It turns out three of the top 10 most-desired careers (of 60 total options in the survey) -- programmers, technicians and computer design engineers -- were right smack at the heart of Silicon Valley's HR focus. In total, nearly 40 percent of all Latino and Black teens reported being interested in a tech career.
The survey also asked important follow-ups, like what aspects of IT training programs would attract them the most, producing insights that Intel (or any other Silicon Valley giant that might want to support STEM education for minorities) could use to be more effective.
Ninety-four percent of the teens surveyed, for example, said they'd be interested in a tech-training program if it paid (like a job) while they were still in high school. With that, 81 percent would be interested if it involved solving a problem in their school. Convenient win-win IT training/school modernization programs, anyone?
The survey also measured perceptions about tech careers among underprivileged urban minority teens, finding that most teens and a significant percentage of parents believe IT jobs require a four-year college degree no matter what, and that the only way to get a tech job is if you're extremely talented at math and science.
"In high schools that gear the majority of their students for four-year colleges, computer science classes are often focused solely on computational thinking and object-oriented programming... typically the only IT and tech offerings on the schedule," wrote the foundation's CEO Charles Eaton.
In reality, he continued, they "are just a portion of the 6.8-million tech occupations in the U.S." That limited focus already narrows the potential IT talent pool in average prep schools, much less when it comes to schools where a lower proportion of the student body is expected to attend college. Eaton writes in more detail in his post about how technology training programs need to rethink how they market themselves to teens in order to attract (and keep) a wider, more diverse pool of future technologists (worth a read).
Meanwhile, Jose Marquez, Founder and CEO of Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association (or LISTA, an organization dedicated to empower Latinos and bridge the representation gap in technology) reacted to the study from the inside perspective:
"For those of us who are on the inside of the industry, we must develop opportunities, intern programs and policies to hire these youth and train them in the skills they need to be proficient at these jobs," he wrote to Latin Post. "There are many Latino American students who could do these jobs right now. Corporations need to stop outsourcing and taking jobs away from Americans, we must stop bringing in talent from abroad and search and hire American black/Latinos youth."
From policy to prep schools, some range of action is definitely needed if out of almost 40 percent's worth of possibilities, the tech industry only ends up with single-digit results.
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