Is the Tech Industry Biased Against Minorities?

by Tiffany Bain on April 8, 2012

Historically, most of our nation’s most lucrative industries and institutions were not so friendly toward recruiting, admitting, hiring, and promoting people of color.  However, with mandates such as Equal Employment Opportunity, affirmative action, and overall fair hiring and recruiting practices, one would think that America’s practices of institutional racism would have disappeared by now.

However, one organization believes that one multibillion-dollar industry remains unfriendly and biased against minorities.

In March, Online IT Degree released an infographic accusing the rapidly growing technology industry in Silicon Valley of being seemingly racist.  It has deemed that everything about the $805 billion U.S. tech industry is racist, particularly in regards to employment, funding for minority start-ups, and its productions.   Although Online IT Degree laid out legitimate facts for readers to consider that its claim is valid, not everyone agreed that the industry is inherently discriminatory.

I kind of reject the premise of an industry as large as the tech industry being tagged as racist,” said Jeneba Ghatt, a Washington, DC, based communications and technology attorney.  “I think that word is heavily loaded.  It comes with a lot of baggage in terms of its history and its application throughout history.”

Ghatt, who is a “politech” or political technology blogger for Jeneba Speaks and Politic365, thinks that historical factors may have contributed to the assumption that the tech industry is racist.  She also thinks there are numerous circumstances surrounding why there are so few tech start-ups founded by African Americans, and why the tech industry have abysmally low numbers of African Americans employed.

“It’s not necessarily racist.  It just shows that there’s disparity, which I think is more accurate,” Ghatt said.

Are African Americans and other underrepresented minorities not allowed to work in the tech industry?

In a 2011 interview with USA Today, Moddy Analytics Economist Sophia Koropecky suggested that as of February of the same year, there were more than 6 million tech industry jobs in the United States.  Additionally, a February TechNet study indicated that the App Economy had close to 500,000 jobs since its inception in 2007.  The industry is projected to add hundreds of thousands of jobs in the near future as well.

However, with all of these jobs in the industry in addition to notable high-tech Silicon Valley firms such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook recruiting and hiring students across the country to intern and work full-time, are people of color not getting hired, or are they not considering the job?

University of Connecticut Associate Sociology Professor Dr. Maya Beasley is the author of Opting Out: Losing the Potential of America’s Young Black Elite, which included an explanation about why some African American students do not apply STEM-related jobs and why they feel the industry is hostile toward people of color.

“A large reason is because the fields tend to be predominantly white male or increasingly Asian male, and it’s not a place where you see a lot of African-Americans or white women or any other group,” Beasley said in a recent interview with Fins Technology writer Joseph Walker.  “And I think there’s a sense that this is a signal of how welcoming a particular occupation is.  If I see one other black person at a job interview and there’s 10 people in the room I might be more concerned about the racial air in that office than if I saw three African-Americans there.   It would tell me something about the company’s commitment to diversity.”

How can the tech industry improve?

Although she rejects the premise that the tech industry is racist, Ghatt does believe that the industry can do a lot to improve the statistics that Online IT has concluded to be apparently racist.   A couple of Ghatt’s suggestions included acknowledging its inequities and disparities and advising white founders of tech start-ups to improve their minority outreach efforts.

According to a 2009 U.S. Small Business Administration report, only 5.4 percent of high-tech, high-impact firms were founded by U.S.-born minorities as compared to nearly 95 percent that were founded by U.S.-born whites.

Ghatt also recommended that more efforts should focus on engaging students of color and teachers in technology such as upgrading classrooms into smart classrooms and training teachers adequately on how to use their classrooms’ new technology.

A STEM Education report authored by Dr. Dorinda Gallant, an associate professor at the School of Education Policy and Leadership at Ohio State University, indicated that it would also take a combination of efforts such as summer camps, online games, and other interactive software to encourage STEM engagement and interest in STEM careers.

“Although many classrooms are beginning to reflect the instant demand for information and the necessity to include technology in instruction with the installation of SMART boards, fiscal constraints, and lack of continuous professional development opportunities on technology creates barriers to adequately preparing students for STEM careers,” Gallant wrote.  “Experiential learning, hands-on activities, integrating STEM education, and creating learning communities are possible ways to spark students’ interest in STEM and STEM careers.”

While some may believe that Online IT Degree’s claim of the tech industry of being racist is not accurate, the organization did bring forth information to not only to expose the lack of diversity in various aspects of the industry, but it also sparked more conversation and solutions to eradicate its disparities.

  • Tiffany K. Bain is a 2011 public relations graduate of Florida A&M University. She currently serves as the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council’s Research Associate. She got her start in the industry in 2007 as an Emma L. Bowen Foundation intern at the nation’s leading cable provider.

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