People of Color Consume Technology but Few Produce It

(Photo by John Fraissinet, Creative Commons license)

People of color are big consumers of smartphones but pretty absent from the technology industry. (Photo by John Fraissinet, Creative Commons license)

Blacks and Latinos are MIA in Silicon Valley or New York’s equivalent, “Silicon Alley,” but they are leading when it comes to using smartphones and social media platforms. In a piece for Colorlines, Von Diaz and Jamilah King investigate the reasons for their conspicuous absence when it comes to building the tools to transmit the media they already avidly consume.

When it comes to the statistics, the number of blacks and Latinos employed in the computer industry or those with a degree in the field hover in the single digits.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also tell a dismal story. Out of more than 600,000 people employed as computer and information systems managers, 27 percent are women, slightly more than five percent are black and five percent are Latino. And a 2012 AFL-CIO report found that although 15 percent of the general labor force is Latino and 11 percent is black, only six percent of Latinos and seven percent of black workers are involved in computer and mathematics occupations.

College degrees in computer science also reflect a paucity of blacks and Latinos. Enrollment in computer science programs has grown by 10 percent since the 2007 dot-com crash, according to the Computing Research Association, but racial diversity was static among those getting masters and bachelors degrees in the field. Among BA recipients in computer science fields, only four percent were black, and a little more than five percent were Hispanic. Two percent of both black and Latino students were among those receiving MAs.

The piece examines two factors that explain the absence of people of color in these areas: lack of access and lack of the social capital crucial for making it in the industry.

First, there’s the lack of access to technology, computer science education and venture capital in communities of color. And because of that lack of access, there’s lack of social capital necessary for entrepreneurs of color to get deals done.

When it comes to venture capital, a person with a certain type of background is favored above others, an occurrence prevalent enough to have a name – “pattern matching.”

Five years ago, influential venture capitalist John Doerr famously said that he saw a correlation between being a white, male nerd who drops out of Harvard or Stanford and being successful. That attitude appears to have gone largely unchecked in what is often described as “pattern recognition” or “pattern matching” in the venture capital world.

Going along that thread, a Reuters study found that white males who attended Harvard, Stanford or MIT saw the most frequent funding from venture capitalists. Essentially, it comes down to having the right connections, something lacking in communities of color.

“It is much harder for people of color who are not tapped into the network, that don’t have the social capital, don’t know how to do the right dance, who don’t know the right mentors,” says Hank Williams, a black tech entrepreneur who founded the data management software company Kloudco and Platform.org, a nonprofit that aims to increase minority participation in technology. “It’s much harder to raise capital. We’re just not in the right circles.”

Prior to even considering social or venture capital, however, there is an absence of promoting technology as a future or hobby in communities. As social media consultant Mary Pryor of Chicago says, students often don’t even know such careers exist, having never been exposed to them in school. Furthermore, being a computer geek was not socially accepted.

“There’s no real celebration if you grow up in the ‘hood-hood,’ which is where I grew up, to be a geek,” she says. “It sucks, but if you’re seen as someone who spends all their time in the books, there’s a kind of a backlash you deal with, on top of just trying to hide your love of being in front of a computer screen all day.”

These gaps could stem from the scarcity of tech entrepreneurs for young people of color to look up to, as opposed to the celebrities, athletes and artists in ample supply.

Silicon Harlem and Platform, founded by Hank Williams, are some of the initiatives working to get black and Latino people involved in the creation side of technology. Black entrepreneur Bruce Lincoln started Silicon Harlem, an organization seeking to turn Harlem into a technological hub. He encourages people of color to form their own networks.

“It’s not simply about making sure everyone has opportunities when it comes to developing companies,” he says. “But, also, how that development creates jobs for those people who are not going to be the technology company developer.”

He says black and Latino entrepreneurs working within communities of color have an opportunity to create new networks, which many have signaled are sorely needed, and that these networks could have much broader effects on the future of the field and equitable access for people of color.

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  1. Pingback: Islandista on the Rise: Facebook’s Global Head of Diversity Maxine Williams | Islandista

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