Silicon Valley

July 21, 2014; NPR Blogs, “All Tech Considered”

For those in the generation known as the Millennials, it has proven to be tough to find a full-time job, even with a college education (the unemployment rate for people under 24 is well over 12 percent). For young people of color who seek employment in high-tech firms like those in Silicon Valley, the task is nearly impossible; firms like Google and Apple, among others, are dominated by white men. Recently, however, there has been a push by a few nonprofit initiatives to try and change that.

Although the specifics of the lack of diversity in high-tech firms has proven difficult to come by, those firms who have had the courage to reveal their demographics have proven what had already been assumed: There are very few young people of color working there. Recently, Google did release their numbers, and it they quite shocking: In tech jobs, 60 percent of workers are white, 34 percent are Asian, two percent are Latino and one percent are black.

Freada Kapor Klein of the Kapor Center for Social Impact has been working on issues of the “tilted playing field,” asking companies such as Twitter why they do not hire many women. The Kapor Center is dedicated to working on “gap closing measures” on behalf of underrepresented communities. Her foundation is investing in organizations that are trying to make a difference, helping young people of color train for and secure jobs at the high tech firms in Silicon Valley.

One such organization is Hack the Hood, which is working with young people of color, teaching them everything about the tech industry from coding to sales. They both offer internships and on-site practical experience in creating and redesigning websites, among other things. Hack the Hood is the project of a small organization called the Center for Media Change, with a mission to promote diversity in journalism and technology. It is a very small organization, reporting an operating budget of $164,000 in 2012.

As reported in NPQ, Google has vowed to do something about its lack of diversity. In what might be seen as a sign of this desire to change, it recently awarded Hack the Hood a $500,000 grant, which could prove to be transformational. Before we get too excited about Google’s investment, though, it should be noted that the gift was a result of a popularity contest–style of initiative in which people were asked to vote on who got the grant. So the donation was made based on the organization’s ability to attract hits from a website’s viewers rather than on Google’s belief in the services provided by Hack the Hood.

It remains unclear if programs like this will make a difference in the near future, but at least people are paying attention to the issue and bringing it to the fore.—Rob Meiksins