High Tech Must Give Higher Priority to Diversity

by Kim Keenan on February 27, 2015

Workplace Diversity - Google Creative CommonsThis revolution will definitely not be televised.

When Intel announced that it would spend $300 million over the next five years to create a workforce that actually looks like America, the coverage of the announcement was scant.

Here, we have a real game changer, and the faint praise of Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s decision to establish a $300 million dollar “Diversity in Tech” initiative – or Jesse Jackson’s efforts at prodding the industry – is almost as bad as the conditions that created the need for the fund in the first place.

Almost.

By stepping up and leading tech companies out of the same old thinking about how to create a diverse workforce, Intel is opening the door for others in the tech world to ensure that the age of innovation looks like all of America.

Last month, Apple included two established minority-owned firms in its $6.5 billion debt offering, which was the largest high-grade corporate bond sale this year – until Microsoft followed with a $10.75 billion debt offering that included four minority-owned firms. This is the kind of action befitting the companies in the vanguard of changing the world we live in.

The business case is clear. People of color and women are among the highest consumers of all things tech. And there are too many of us to be ignored. 

The Census Bureau figures tell the story.

“The non-Hispanic white population is projected to peak in 2024, at 199.6 million, up from 197.8 million in 2012. Unlike other race or ethnic groups, however, its population is projected to slowly decrease, falling by nearly 20.6 million from 2024 to 2060,” the Census Bureau reported.

“Meanwhile, the Hispanic population would more than double, from 53.3 million in 2012 to 128.8 million in 2060. Consequently, by the end of the period, nearly one in three U.S. residents would be Hispanic, up from about one in six today.

“The black population is expected to increase from 41.2 million to 61.8 million over the same period. Its share of the total population would rise slightly, from 13.1 percent in 2012 to 14.7 percent in 2060.

“The Asian population is projected to more than double, from 15.9 million in 2012 to 34.4 million in 2060, with its share of nation’s total population climbing from 5.1 percent to 8.2 percent in the same period.

“Among the remaining race groups, American Indians and Alaska Natives would increase by more than half from now to 2060, from 3.9 million to 6.3 million, with their share of the total population edging up from 1.2 percent to 1.5 percent. The Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander population is expected to nearly double, from 706,000 to 1.4 million. The number of people who identify themselves as being of two or more races is projected to more than triple, from 7.5 million to 26.7 million over the same period.

“The U.S. is projected to become a majority-minority nation for the first time in 2043…”

In that world, a company that only sees white will find competitive challenges to keep up with a world that sees everything but white – green will be the driver of what companies look like, and not just in tech.

This is not a handout by any means. This is a hand up to a solid future for our communities of color. We are drivers of all aspects of this new economy. Our money powers micro chips, search engines, and every handheld device on the planet. Diversity as a core value is more about staying connected with your customers so that they do not discard you for the next new shiny thing than it is about giving something away.

Even more key is Intel’s decision to be the first Silicon Valley firm to recognize Martin Luther King’s Birthday as a holiday. The message is clear. This is not a Black holiday, but a holiday that reflects the American spirit. Service really is the rent we pay for our time here on earth. With all of the progress and all of these gadgets, we expect cutting edge companies to produce cutting edge answers. If we can locate your phone, your keys, and seats to that sold-out game, it would never make sense that we have no idea where or even how to find qualified people of color? Somewhere, someone is feeling my déjà vu.

The actions taken by Intel, Apple, and Microsoft demonstrate that they recognize that good business requires action to get us on track. We cannot wait for a perfect pipeline of engineers before we diversify the tech industry. We already have marketing reps, lawyers, engineers, and executives in all colors, so we can start right where we are now while working to expand the pipeline for the future. At stake is an America that can provide jobs for all, and not just for a chosen few.

The Intel, Apple, and Microsoft announcements are signs that we have the technology, we have the will, and we can create an innovation age with a workforce that truly looks like America. We should accept nothing less.

  • Kim Keenan, Esq., is President and CEO of the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council. Prior to taking the helm at MMTC, Keenan served as General Counsel and Secretary of the NAACP. She is a Past President of the 100,000 member District of Columbia Bar and the 60,000 member National Bar Association network, the largest network of African American lawyers, judges, and law students in the country.

 

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