Many of the companies pushing the world into the future have two things in common: They’re mostly white and overwhelmingly run by men. Just, think about that for a second.
Tech giants like Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Apple have done more to transform how people communicate with one another than perhaps any company since Bell Telephone – but while they develop innovative ways to connect the world, their workforce doesn’t even accurately represent the diversity you see at the grocery store.
Meanwhile, a new mandate at Chicago Public Schools (CPS) could help form a pipeline that gets more people from diverse backgrounds into the tech industry. Beginning with this falls freshmen, high schoolers will have to complete a computer science curriculum to graduate.
CPS is the first public school system with such a requirement, following a unanimous vote by the board of education late last month. It’s not a perfect program – major budgetary concerns will limit the system at first – but the woman leading it is confident it can succeed. Brenda Wilkerson, senior manager of computer science and information technology education at CPS, told The Huffington Post in a recent interview, “Kids are riveted, they’re excited – they want to do this.”
These kids, by-and-large, don’t look like the people you’d see on the campuses owned by the world’s most elite tech firms. Overall, CPS is 45.6% Hispanic, 39.3% African-American, 9.4% white and 3.6% Asian.
That’s a pretty heavy contrast to the tech world.
Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, with 396,683 students currently enrolled in its public school system, 12,007 of which are high schoolers. If you can get those students to care about computer science, you’ve created a substantial crop of individuals who can help create a more diverse workplace at some of the world’s most important technology companies.
To be clear, no one is saying there aren’t already diverse candidates for tech companies to hire. Leslie Miley, a former engineering manager at Twitter who publically criticized the company’s lack of diversity, told HuffPost that top tech companies essentially ignore people from different backgrounds by pulling candidates from the same high-ranking (and very white) universities and relying on employee referrals.
In some sense what they are trying to say here, is the diversity in their workforce is actually a reflection of the diversity within the pool of candidates selected, which is possible.
“The thing I always hate is, ‘The first black person to do this.” I’m supposed to look at them as a role model? But they represent the barrier,” Miley said. “There’s only one?” The important thing, he suggests, is to show young people that there really is a pathway to success and that they’ll see people like themselves along the way.
The big problem with all this is that Chicago doesn’t have any money. “Our schools lost over 200 librarians,” said Wendy Katten, director of advocacy group ‘Raise Your Hand’. “Many, many schools now have empty libraries where there is no teaching going on. There is no staff.”
That’s not all. Though the board of education voted to require computer science education for kids to graduate from Chicago Public Schools, half of those high schools don’t have existing computer science programs.
If you want to donate to computer science education in Chicago, you can use this website.
Vision For The Future
Wilkerson acknowledges the challenges faced by CPS. But she’s determined to help young people understand that they have a future in technology. Her overall vision is to get kids started on computer science well before they’re even in high school – that is, before they’re limited by some meritless stereotype about who’s “supposed” to work in tech.
“What I’m hoping is that this gets galvanized in a child, and then you can never take it away from them,” Wilkerson told HuffPost.
Like Miley, though, she doesn’t place a lot of stock in the notion that good, diverse candidates aren’t already out there. But it’s important to her that people from a variety of backgrounds feel like they belong at these companies.
“I was in the industry. I’m an African-American female. It’s not so much that they can’t find us. We exist. It’s the environment that doesn’t keep us,” she told HuffPost. “That is something that companies are going to have to come to grips with.”
Read Article (Damon Beres | huffingtonpost.com | 03/08/2016)
At this point, it’s very important to work towards diversifying the pools of candidates in universities. This is obviously a lot easier said than done, but “when” accomplished the trickle-down-effect of qualified candidates will inevitably make diversification a success.
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