This complexity doesn’t mean we should give up. Instead, we ought to tackle the lack of diverse representation and inclusion in Silicon Valley by interrogating root causes, instead of results.
It’s a philosophy Hillary Clinton subscribes to. At the Lesbians Who Tech Summit in New York City on Sept. 13, the 2016 US presidential candidate and former secretary of State was a surprise guest on stage with Leanne Pittsford, founder and CEO of Lesbians Who Tech + Allies, a community for queer women in tech and their supporters.
After discussing Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election, Pittsford shifted the tech conversation from email hacking to diversity: “So, the tech sector as a whole has spent more than $1 billion on trying to solve this problem for women, black, and Latinx people in technology,” she said. “If you were a tech CEO, how would you solve this problem?”
“I’m so glad you asked that,” Clinton replied, “because I think it’s one of the obligations that the tech community, and especially the big the companies, have to solve. I think they need a three-part strategy.”
Big tech companies obsessed with addressing diversity and inclusion failures among their adult employees are already behind, said Clinton. Instead, they ought to start with children:
“I think a lot of the money should be going into schools, to introduce kids who would otherwise be excluded to the opportunities that are in the tech world and helping to train them, not only in the classroom but also after-school programs,” she explained.
“There is so much that the tech community could do—there is so much money that could be used to really start building and filling a pipeline. There are occasional programs across companies, but there’s nothing like the sustained effort that’s needed.”
A prime example of this strategy in action is Facebook Academy, a summer program at Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters, where local high school students from surrounding underserved communities like Redwood City and East Palo Alto spend six weeks working at Facebook, taking coding classes, learning networking skills, and gaining exposure to professional opportunities in tech beyond coding. Facebook Academy students are paid, and are encouraged to come back as interns when they’re in college.
Just as important as educating children and teens is training adults who didn’t have the opportunity to catch the tech wave—and that might mean getting out of the office.
“I think that that the tech community should be going into underserved communities and training people, especially adults,” said Clinton. “I truly believe that there is a big opportunity out there for people who, if they were given the training and support, [can] be part of the future when it comes to tech.”
A good example here is the nonprofit C4Q. As Adele Peters explains in Fast Company, C4Q ”recruits New Yorkers from low-income, underserved communities, teaches them programming over an intensive 10-month course, and then helps them land jobs at companies like Pinterest and Kickstarter.”
Education and opportunity-making for underestimated minorities cannot be a temporary strategy seen as an extracurricular endeavor. Tech companies, Clinton says, need to bring this mission in-house:
“I also think that there needs to be schools or training centers attached to every single tech company that employs, you know, more than 100 people,” says Clinton. “This way they can do more on in-house training, outreach training, and job placement. This is not complicated, it just requires a commitment from people who have the resources to do it.”