Last week, Comcast announced that it is creating a new position in the company called “Executive Director of Diversity and Inclusion” and appointed Maria G. Arias to take on its responsibilities. Arias will “direct, manage, and organize Comcast’s diversity program strategy,” which includes important issues such as minority recruitment, career development, suppliers, and programming. Named one of the “100 Most Influential Minorities in Cable” in 2010, Arias is well positioned to serve as a role model for minorities considering careers in the telecommunications and high-tech sectors.
Comcast and other broadband service providers have long been leaders in developing minority workforces. This recent announcement is great news for minority communities that are yearning for increased minority-focused content and general inclusion in the digital media sector. But more work needs to be done across other parts of this emerging ecosystem, including the high-tech sector. The San Jose Mercury News published an article last year disclosing figures that revealed just how few minorities are employed by firms operating in Silicon Valley, our nation’s leading hub for innovation. As previously discussed on BBSJ, these findings are highly discouraging.
Room for Improvement
Nevertheless, minority employment in high-tech appears to be improving, albeit slowly. Following the lead of companies like Comcast, a growing number of high-tech firms are promoting tech-based educational programs and embracing in-house diversity initiatives. The Information Technology Industry Council, for example, has reported that Cisco has deployed a number of educational projects focused on building “tomorrow’s workforce,” many of which target minority students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs.
In addition, Hewlett-Packard currently provides “Innovations in Education Grants” to support administrators and educators in charge of STEM programs in various middle and high schools across the country. As for commitment to a more diverse workplace, Cox Communications recently established a corporate diversity council, as well as local councils in all 14 of its markets. Verizon recently placed in the top 10 of Diversity MBA Magazine’s list of “Top 50 Companies for Diverse Managers to Work.”
Perhaps most significantly, Comcast, as part of its merger with NBC-Universal, will begin expanding its existing broadband network to reach 400,000 additional homes and six additional rural communities. The company will also provide free high-speed Internet service to 600 schools or libraries in underserved, low-income areas, many of which are populated with significant numbers of minority students. In addition, Comcast will make broadband available for less than $10 per month and personal computers or netbooks for less than $150 to approximately 2.5 million low-income households.
The Road Ahead
These are a few of many commitments by several companies to promote the importance of diversity and educate low-income minority youth through broadband-based digital literacy programs, but the fight isn’t over. Policymakers must do everything in their power to assist in making sure broadband is available and affordable. State and local government must also step up and create initiatives that will expose minority youth to broadband-enabled tools, which will ultimately equip them with the necessary skills to participate in the digital workforce. From there, media content will increasingly reflect the diverse backgrounds and views of a more heterogeneous audience. Taken together, such a comprehensive approach is needed to close the gap in minority employment and participation in these critical sectors.
Marcella Gadson is the Editor in Chief of the Broadband and Social Justice Blog and Director of Communications at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC).