This piece originally appeared on the Microsoft Bay Area blog.
As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s important for us to lift up the accomplishments of Black people in this country – including in the tech industry – and to present these stories to everyone in the community. Yet, as we ponder this history, we can’t look away from the ways in which institutional discrimination and bias continue to pose a roadblock to true equity in the tech industry – and across American society.
The past year has made this painfully clear, with the loss of far too many Black lives – including many young people. These deaths are not disconnected from inequity in tech, as they are happening in the same communities and in the same places where many purport to want to create change.
In other words, we have to do more, and we must do better. It’s not enough for companies to fund STEM programs today, or even commit to hiring more Black programmers in the future, we must also account for the long shadow of historic imbalance. Education alone can’t solve the culture crisis in Silicon Valley, as there are few pathways for Black people to rise in tech – especially women – even if they have the “right” resume. A recent study by digitalundivided found that “Only 12 Black women led startups have raised $1MM or more in outside funding since 2012,” while “the average FAILED startup raises $1.3MM in venture funding.”
So in addition to bringing technology to schools with large populations of students of color, or funding non-profits working to close the STEM education gap, those at the top have to make an effort to assess their own internal systems – Who gets hired? Who makes more money? What are we doing to account for own biases? – and their positioning within the communities in which they work. How is a company impacting the Black community around it – what is its economic, environmental, and social footprint?
In our hometown of Oakland, where the community is being confronted by an influx of tech companies and tech money, it’s especially important that we not forget history, and how Black communities have been pushed out of so many American cities and displaced by waves of “innovation” before.
The upside is that tech – as a community committed to fostering new ideas – can be a part of the solution. Specifically by bringing a wider diversity of voices together to solve problems, we can create an opportunity for new perspectives, knowledge, and possibilities to emerge. Because truly innovative ideas should make our world more inclusive, not less.
By investing in young people of color, as well as in local small businesses, Hack the Hood hopes to create opportunities for the people who live here to take part in the change that is happening around them. During our 6-week bootcamp participants build free websites for local businesses, while also learning to see themselves as entrepreneurs and change-makers in their community. They leave with a toolbox of skills, confidence, and ideas that equip them to flourish in whatever industry they choose.
But are the industries ready for these young people? Are they ready to make space for them? We invite you to have this conversation at your office, in the context of that history of inequity, and to determine what steps you’re willing to take to create real pathways for change.
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