The WSJ story “Facebook Blames Lack of Available Talent for Diversity Problem” was a WTW turn-back-the-clock moment for me.
Let me explain — and indulge me with a personal story.
It’s early January 2012. A cold, wintery evening — the sort of evening that makes you question whether any New Yorker who RSVP’d for an event will even bother to show up. Women 2.0 was hosting a women in tech reception and as co-founder of the first startup accelerator focused on investing in women-founded mobile ventures, I was the keynote speaker. As I walked into the venue on Houston Street, I was shocked: the event was packed, wall-to-wall with women founders, developers, and students. I was shocked not because the room was full of female talent, rather, that anyone in their right mind would venture out on such a miserable evening.
After I made my remarks, a number of attendees stood in line to speak with me, and two who patiently waited till all the rest had asked their questions, stood out from the rest. They were both students (CUNY) studying computer science. They introduced themselves to me as “back-end developers” and I responded, jokingly:
“According to the world, you two don’t exist.”
We laughed as I peppered them with questions about what they were studying, the coding languages they knew, why they loved computer science…and then I asked “what are you doing after graduation?”….and as they responded, describing their current job prospects, I got really, really, F-bomb dropping mad.
The only jobs they were being offered was IT Helpdesk. Seriously — I can’t make this sh#t up.
Was it because they were women or polite, quiet non-beer pong types or black or earning degrees off the Ivy or Muslim? I had no bloody clue why they were being relegated to the sidelines of their chosen career sector (technology). And yes, I was new to the tech ecosystem and upon reflection, delightfully ignorant, HOWEVER what I did know was I could do something. So I begged them not to accept any of the crappy job offers before them, and to trust me that I could find them something better to do with their skills. I offered them internships on the spot — with an accelerator that had yet to pick the participating startups or find office space — and they took me up on the offer.
I’m indebted to Aisha and Rushaine for coming to the event to meet me that cold January night and for their crazy, wild trust in me.
Fast forward to today. I’m having a similar [insert profanity of choice here] moment as Facebook issues an officially pathetic “Appropriate representation in technology or any other industry will depend upon more people having the opportunity to gain necessary skills through the public education system” statement and I’m wildly moved by Kaya Thomas for her perfect mic drop response on Medium —
“Students of color ARE qualified for these positions. We are trying our hardest to make ourselves visible, but you are making us seem invisible by ignoring our brilliance.”
More than qualified brilliant talent like Kaya, Aisha and Rushaine is out there — TODAY — not on some future TBD “after the public education system fixes the pipeline” day.
Open your eyes.
And now I’m going to challenge you to do something NOW to ensure the talented developers / coders who don’t look like Mark Zuckerberg or have the pedigree of a Harvard / Stanford / MIT degree (or whatever other BS barrier to entry into the tech and innovation ecosystem you want to erect), have the opportunities their ambition and brilliance deserves.
- Get involved with YWCA of New York City’s Girls Geek Club and/or Black Girls Code and/or TechGirlz and/or TechMums and/or Outbox Incubator and/orGirls Who Code and/or any of the other organizations out there. If you can’t give these organizations your time, give them your company’s internship opportunities and yes, your money. AND, there are lots more organizations out there, find them (champion of women in tech, Craig Newmark lists those he supports on his blog).
- Support Black Girl Nerds as an advertiser or loyal supporter and download + listen to the BGN podcast while you’re at it.
- Sponsor Women In Tech Summit and/or Lesbians Who Tech and/or IEEE Women In Engineering International Leadership Conference or Grace Hopper Conference or or or (go to Google and search “Women In Technology Conferences” as I can promise you, the search will not come up empty).
- Buy your Life Model Canvas (a personal strategic management and design thinking tool) and partner with its creator, Ayori as she delivers Life Model Canvas training to youth in undeveloped and at-risk communities.
- Book Ada Ada Ada for your next event or conference. Ada.Ada.Ada. is a live performance, telling the story of story of Ada Lovelace (inventor of the first complex computer program in 1843) in an unexpected way.
- Watch “The Equal Opportunity Reality: Diversity and Inclusion — who runs the world?” webinar offered by eRevalue on July 26, as companies need help changing faster. Perhaps data and understanding reputational/competitve risk will help?
It’s time to disrupt the “oh we’d hire them if any of them were out there” BS — right now.