If you haven’t heard terms like digital Inclusion and digital divide, let me explain what they mean and why they present such an issue. These terms were created to explain the lack of minorities that either have access to technology or that currently hold technology jobs in America. This subject is very dear to my heart because I am an African American man in the online marketing industry that has seen the effects of the aforementioned issues first-hand. I started my career in online marketing in 1998, I was a pioneer, developing online technologies for companies that didn’t even know what a website was at the time. Over the years I have amassed a pretty we’ll rounded and robust resume so some may assume that my ascension to big time executive would be a forgone conclusion. Not so! I have had to deal with quite a few situation that no respecting person would ever put up with and if I told you about a few of them you may not believe me. Now, I understand that some of you may say that blaming any lack of success on outside factors can in itself be self-defeating and that has always been my personal philosophy as we’ll, until I began researching the issue.
A year ago I decided to start a nonprofit called Youth Campaigns which offers technology training to low-income, minority and at-risk youth in the greater San Diego area. I decided that it was important to create such an organization after I had an epiphany during a consulting gig at one of the larger digital marketing agencies here in San Diego. As I was standing in the middle of the office, it dawned on me that in this very large company of progressive ideas, the only person of color was me and it had been that way at most of the other companies that I had worked with as we’ll. Initially I assumed that this was just an indictment of San Diego and its lack of diversity as a whole. That prompted me to do some research and what I found was that African Americans made up less than 2 percent of the tech workforce in America, while Hispanics are only 3 percent and let’s not even get into positions of leadership. One argument that has been made is that there just are not enough qualified minorities but a recent USA TODAY analysis shows that top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them. Even more damning was a recent report showing that even after improved diversity policies had been put in place, the top 7 tech companies in Silicon Valley still had serious issue with diversity. For years these same diversity policies have worked we’ll to improve the number of Asian and Indian individuals being represented but African Americans and Hispanics are still being left out in the cold.
So how does this affect you? Even if you are not a minority in America you should be concerned. America used to be the leader in technology innovation and recent rankings have us steadily declining. My opinion is this is directly correlated to our lack of diversity in the tech industry and this puts us at a severe disadvantage amongst other world powers. It’s like deciding to play a very competitive basketball game with five of your friends but because you don’t trust the skills of three of those friends you decide not to let them touch the ball for the entire game. You are now playing two on five and in most cases you are going to get crushed and that is what we are doing by excluding the ideas and creativity of a part of our population. A recent article in USA Today pointed out that our growing diversity issue may also lead to the technology industry losing touch with the diverse nation — and world — that forms its customer base, especially considering that minorities will be the majority by the year 2044.
So how do we begin to change this? I believe that we can start by getting rid of the concept of “Company Culture”. Being a business owner myself I was always a huge proponent of this, until internal interview discussions made me realize that “Company Culture” in most cases just meant that you wanted to hire someone that was similar to you or others already currently working at the company. On its face this is harmless, but given many peoples instinctual biases and prejudices it turns into an easy and justifiable way to exclude people based on those very things. If we just hired the most qualified candidate every time, that wasn’t an axe murderer, companies would have a greater talent pool. Next, nepotism is the killer of efficiency. I have a sort of equation that explains why nepotism is detrimental to your business. My equation states that each instance of nepotism at your company lowers its efficiency by small percentage points and leads to diminishing returns for the company over a long period of time. I have found that no matter what a person does, the practice of nepotism encourages them to overlook some things and in some cases makes them downright blind to acts from the nepotee that are flat out destroying the business one efficiency point at a time. Lastly, you can support my current program Finding Voices, ( http://youthcampaigns.org/ ) which focuses on social media training for minority youth. I believe that this ensures that there will be more minorities that have the skills to create their own platform to amplify their own voice and create an opportunities for themselves despite the lack of opportunity in the current workforce. If you are not in a position to do any of these things then just remember, if you are not a part of the solution then you are a part of the problem.