students tech stem diversity lack change
Lack of Diversity in Tech from the Perspective of the Diverse# Lack of Diversity in Tech from the Perspective of the DiverseDisclaimer: I am writing this piece to discuss a factor that partiallyexplains the lack of diversity in tech and what can be done to change it. Myviews stem from my previous experiences, conversations I’ve had with my peersand what I have witnessed firsthand throughout my own life.— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —The evident lack of minorities in the tech space has continued to garner greatattention and has led to heavy criticism of prominent tech companies. Forexample, Google’s 2016 diversity statistics revealed that only 3% of itsworkforce was Hispanic and 2% were black; figures that are troubling but sadlyubiquitous throughout the industry. There are a wealth of explanations for thecauses of these abysmal numbers (hiring and recruiting practices, lack ofpipeline programs, etc.), but as a half African-American and Hispanic male Iwant to discuss one root cause that has affected me personally.My background…I grew up never really feeling as though I “fit in” with those around me.Growing up in low-income inner-city neighborhoods throughout Queens, it wasincredibly difficult to find peers who shared most of my greatest passions.Fortunately my love for sports and affinity towards the hip-hop / rap culturestopped me from feeling like a total outcast, but I felt as though I wasforced to live a double life. To the outside world I was the typical studentathlete who loved to socialize, play ball and get into all types ofshenanigans, while at home I was known for being studious, a huge tech geek,dangerously addicted to video games, a Star Wars fanatic and an avid comicbook reader. I didn’t publicly reveal my infatuation of technology until Ientered college, where I fused it with my interest in business and eventuallyfound myself fully immersed into the tech and startup ecosystem. I have beenincredibly close to the industry for years now and no matter where I go Inotice I am typically one of only a handful men of color in the room. As ahuge advocate for diversity and inclusion, I have made it my mission to doeverything in my power to address this issue and see that this changes duringmy lifetime.What’s the Issue?To truly understand how to solve this problem we must first be aware of theroot causes. In speaking with my peers, students that I mentor and youngermembers in my family I see the same problem now that I saw years ago: youngstudents don’t aspire to work in the industry because they don’t think it’scool. In order to diversify the industry, we need the next generation ofstudents excited about the idea of working in technology and passionate aboutSTEM fields. To accomplish this we first need to change the mentalities andperspectives of the students. According to data from Change the Equation,despite a national focus on directing more students toward science,technology, engineering and math fields — particularly women and minorities —the STEM workforce is no more diverse now than in 2001.Why is this so?Ask students in a low-income community what she/he aspire to be when they growup and you’ll hear dreams of one day playing professionally in the NBA, MLB,or becoming the next world famous singer/rapper. Outside of prestigious andspecialized high schools here in NYC (Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, Bronx HS ofScience, etc.), you rarely hear of kids dreaming to become the next Zuckerbergor Gates. I believe this is a direct result of failing to expose studentsearly in life to technology/science. Without an understanding of computerscience, knowledge of what careers in the space look like, or high-profilerole models in the industry, it’s no surprise that our culture doesn’t supportSTEM culture. As a child I wasn’t aware of a single prominent Black orHispanic leaders within tech that I could point to and strive to emulate andunfortunately, almost a decade later, students today can’t either. From thisperspective it’s obviously why students aren’t interested in or dreaming toone day work in tech.How can we change this?It starts with exposure early on in life. For the few minorities currentlyworking in the tech industry, it falls on our shoulders to spread the wordabout how awesome and lucrative a career in space actually is. It’s criticalthat students see professionals in the industry who they look like them, comefrom similar neighborhoods and can actually relate to them. Student’s are indesperate need of mentors and role models who can influence and inspire themto get excited about technology (and overall STEM fields). Many kids may growup loving to play video games but aren’t aware that their passion can lead toa high paying career in video game programming or design. We need to maketechnology cool and prove to students that the industry is for everybody,despite what the current numbers suggest. Jay Z and Kobe Bryant may be popularrole models to many inner-city students but I bet majority of them don’t knowboth have launched their own tech-focused venture capital firms. Same goes forMagic Johnson and Queensbridge native rapper Nas. By increasing our visibilityand the work being done by minorities in the space we increase the visibilityof the entire industry.A Call to ActionTo truly diversify this industry it’s imperative that we focus on the childrenfirst. With the next generation of business leaders motivated to pursue ascareer in technology, we will undoubtedly result in a massive improvement fromtoday’s cringeworthy diversity statistics. Interests in STEM at an early ageneeds to be openly supported and nurtured. We must empower students to becomputer geeks and nerds by providing them with the emotional support andguidance they may not be receiving from their families, friends and/orsurroundings. Then and only then can we expect to make a lasting change andpave the way for a truly diverse and inclusive industry.