Updated 9:56 am, Saturday, December 14, 2013
The tech invasion of San Francisco is creating concerns about growing income disparity and the displacement of working-class residents. At the same time, an increasing number of people see the industry as the opportunity to close income gaps and include marginalized communities.
“The Bay Area has an incredible array of high-tech companies. There’s no lack of job opportunities, but there are not enough people being trained how to code,” noted Daniel Lurie, founder of Tipping Point, which raises money for nonprofits working to eradicate poverty. “There is a growing awareness of this need; companies, foundations, private-public partnerships are realizing it. We need everyone to invest in this issue.”
The digital divide was originally seen as the gap between communities with access to technology and those without. Though limited access is an issue in some areas, technology has proved to be more ubiquitous than imagined. The more pressing concern now is the divide between those who are consumers of technology and those who create it and profit from it.
Blacks, Latinos and women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math jobs (see box at right). Many tech companies have been criticized for having all white-male management teams and boards of directors.
“I don’t see a resistance to inclusion. It’s more an ignorance and people being confounded, not knowing what to do,” said Cedric Brown, managing partner at the Kapor Center for Social Impact in Oakland. Founder Mitch Kapor, a pioneer of the personal-computer industry, and his wife, Freada Kapor Klein, are long-standing advocates for diversity in tech industries.
For example, Brown has suggested companies expand their recruitment efforts beyondIvy League schools to include national African American fraternities and sororities.
Jay Banfield, founding executive director of Year Up San Francisco Bay Area, talks about tech industries broadening their definition of skills to include characteristics such as determination and what he calls grit, qualities prevalent among young people growing up in disadvantaged circumstances.
“Young adults in our communities have the intangible skills companies are looking for that can be combined with technology skills,” Banfield said. Year Up recruits 18- to 24-year-olds from poor neighborhoods, trains them in tech skills and places them in internships and jobs. Banfield said 72 graduated in the most recent class in February; four months later, 87 percent were employed, earning $40,000 a year.
People working on this issue identify two potential advantages:
— Poor and disadvantaged communities and individuals can be trained and employed in good-paying jobs, strengthening their communities and the overall economy.
— The technology industry, drawing on a larger pool of participants, will benefit from a greater diversity of ideas.
The same arguments have been made about diversity in the traditional economy. In addition to employment, advocates say there is a need for more diversity on the entrepreneurship side. According to PitchBook, companies with at least one female founder made up just 13 percent of the venture capital deals this year, although that’s up from 4 percent in 2004.
“In the tech community, you have white men funding white companies. They’re interested in a certain kind of product,” observed Kurt Collins, one of the founders of the Hidden Genius Project in Oakland that teaches computer science to African American male high school students. “What about all the products that cater to the female gender, Asian Americans and black men and women? The industry is leaving a lot of money on the table by leaving these groups out.”
“You can only have so many apps telling you where to eat dinner,” Brown quipped.
Kapor Capital funded two startups that illustrate the benefits of broadening the pool of participants. Regalii, started by an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, makes it easier for people to send money to family members in other countries, using their mobile devices. Pigeon.ly connects prison inmates to family members through photographs and phone calls; its creator came up with the idea after being released from prison.
Collins, who is from Grenada, also sees some cultural resistance to risk-taking in the African American community. “People didn’t think being a software engineer was a good, stable job. That left us out of the entire first wave,” he said.
Jennifer Arguello, senior special project adviser at the Kapor Center, said perception helps limit Latino participation in the industry, in addition to the lack of educational resources. “If you can’t see it, it’s hard to be it,” she said. “The numbers of Latinos in tech positions of leadership is so small, there is a lack of role models. That plays a huge factor in what our youth think they can be.”
She is a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the largest group of Latinos working in science and technology jobs in the country. It sends members into schools. She said the number of undergraduate, high school and middle-school chapters of the organization is growing rapidly.
“I’m very hopeful our community won’t be passed by,” she said.
A recent report found that blacks, Latinos and women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math jobs (sometimes referred to as STEM jobs) as of 2011.
|Race||U.S. workforce||U.S. STEM jobs|
|African Americans||10 percent||6 percent|
|Asian Americans||5.5 percent||14.5 percent|
|Latinos||15 percent||6.5 percent|
|Non-Hispanic whites||67 percent||71 percent|
|Women||47.5 percent||25.8 percent|
Source: U.S. Census September 2013
Brenda Payton writes from the East Bay.
- The New Minority Report: Joining Forces Helps The Future (latinageeks.com)
- Low-income kids of color SMASH into math and science at Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, USC (venturebeat.com)
- A Surefire Way To Increase The Number Of Jobs Created In The Tech Sector (forbes.com)
- New Resource Details Oakland’s ‘Innovation Economy’ (blogs.kqed.org)