Community Must Work Together to Increase Tech Diversity

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Working together for inclusion

Earlier this month, MassTLC published our annual State of Tech Economy Report for 2017. While our research confirmed that the high technology industry remains one of the most important economic drivers in the state, it also revealed some troubling statistics about the distribution of those economic benefits. In response, Darnell L. Williams, president and CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, recently published a piece in the Boston Business Journal, which calls for the community to join together to increase tech diversity in the state.

According to Williams, “The number of technology positions in the area continues to increase, but minorities are severely underrepresented in the talent pool. Public and private sector initiatives to promote and improve access to computer science education and STEM that have cropped up in recent years are both welcome and necessary steps to increase diversity in tech, but there is still an inadequate supply of training opportunities for disadvantaged and minority populations both in grade school and in early adulthood.”

“If we want the benefits of economic growth to be distributed across populations in our state, we must ensure there is opportunity for young adults to enter the fields that will produce jobs and financial stability.”

Read the full text of Williams’ article below.

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The tech industry is one of Massachusetts’ fastest growing sectors and largest employers, but a large swath of the population is too often excluded from these sought-after job opportunities. Last year, the tech sector in Massachusetts added 9,400 jobs. This economic growth isn’t reaching everyone, however. A recent study, based on self reporting by major tech companies, showed that black employees make up only 1 percent of tech workers at four of the largest tech firms in the United States.

The statistics here in Massachusetts don’t paint a better picture: Only 3 percent of Massachusetts workers in computer and mathematical occupations are black, and only 5 percent are Hispanic, according to the Mass Technology Leadership Council’s 2016 State of the Technology Economy report. 

The number of technology positions in the area continues to increase, but minorities are severely underrepresented in the talent pool. Public and private sector initiatives to promote and improve access to computer science education and STEM that have cropped up in recent years are both welcome and necessary steps to increase diversity in tech, but there is still an inadequate supply of training opportunities for disadvantaged and minority populations both in grade school and in early adulthood. In recent years, a slew of computer programming and tech training programs have spread rapidly into all corners of the country and the globe. While these are much-needed efforts, the current reach of technology training programs does not adequately address the opportunity gap present in the high school graduate population who have aged out of public school programs and cannot risk taking on debt to attend a private coding academy, or even courses at a community college.

The Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts — a civil rights organization with a long history of fighting for equality for the disadvantaged — is launching a computer-programming class to address this gap. The program, called MSIMBO (which means “code” in Swahili), is a 20-week class for adults 18 years and older who are trying to overcome significant challenges to employment and are interested in IT-related work. MSIMBO seeks to improve diversity in the tech industry by providing free job training and placement services to individuals who are willing to commit to the training, and the long-term goal of self-empowerment.

The Urban League recently launched MSIMBO in partnership with Google, Bank of America and Arthur F. Blanchard Trust/BNY Mellon, and with the active support of Gov. Baker and Mayor Walsh, to ensure that the opportunities and benefits brought by the tech boom in Boston reach all of our neighborhoods. The program, which kicked off classes on Sept. 18, will not only help advance the participants, but it will also start to build a more diverse labor pool to fill the thousands of job openings that require coding skills here in Boston. When this pipeline matures years from now, the tech industry, and the greater economy, will benefit from the diversified backgrounds and perspectives of these employees.

A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group found that the internet economy will outpace just about every economic sector over the next five years. If we want the benefits of economic growth to be distributed across populations in our state, we must ensure there is opportunity for young adults to enter the fields that will produce jobs and financial stability. Boston businesses, from centuries-old financial institutions to start-ups getting their first round of funding, must contribute to increasing diversity in tech through educational programs like MSIMBO and through fair hiring practices. Supporting this cause spreads economic opportunity, which benefits all of us both socially and economically by stimulating growth and creating a prosperous, sustainable economy.

Read the original post in the Boston Business Journal

Download MassTLC’s State of Tech report for 2017