Tech firms seek partnerships to increase workforce diversity

Tech firms seek partnerships to increase workforce diversity

Technology companies are forming partnerships with historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in an effort to improve the diversity of their workforces.

Rep. Alma AdamsAlma Shealey AdamsJackson Lee: Dems must be 'vigilant' in ensuring all Americans have right to vote  Closing diversity gaps in patenting is essential to innovation economy Tech firms seek partnerships to increase workforce diversity MORE (D-N.C.), the chairwoman of the HBCU congressional caucus, casts the effort as a way to address “pipeline issues” between black communities and tech companies, and to address longstanding complaints about a lack of hiring of African-Americans in Silicon Valley.

“What we want to do is create some opportunities for schools and industries to work together so that these partnerships will yield a pipeline,” Adams told The Hill.

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Company representatives, lawmakers and college and university officials are convening in Greensboro, N.C., this week to try tackle tech’s persistent problems with diversity.

At an event on Wednesday and Thursday led and organized by the HBCU congressional caucus, people focused on figuring out how to make tech firms more diverse.

Adams thinks increased partnerships between historically black campuses and companies can lead to more recruitment.

Howard University, as an example, opened its “Howard West” campus at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., last year.

Adams wants to promote similar joint partnerships, and is working to secure pledges during this week’s meetings.

She said increasing diversity in tech has impacts beyond creating more inclusive workspaces. It also helps give African-Americans access to high-paying jobs, a small but helpful tool in mitigating the massive disparities in income and wealth between black and white communities.

Companies at the North Carolina event include Google, Facebook and Amazon. Tech lobbying groups such as the Information Technology Industry Council, the Internet Association and Software.org will also be there, alongside officials from a bevy of HBCUs including Spelman College, Prairie View A&M and Florida A&M.

Adams secured four agreements from technology companies to establish partnerships with HBCUs as a part of her HBCU partnership challenge before this week’s meetings.

Industry figures say they support the push.

“I think so much of career advancement is based on connections and personal connections. Part of our goal is to begin building and deepening both individuals and institutional connections,” said Dean Garfield, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council

Garfield, who is attending the summit, said that he believes the partnerships can be effective.

So far, tech firms have shown little tangible progress, however.

A report conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in November showed that over the last ten years, the technology industry had made no statistically significant gains in increasing its percentages of black, Hispanic and female employees. It noted that all three of these groups also made up a much smaller percentage of the tech workforce than the general population.

Garfield acknowledged the industry can and should do better.

“We’re approaching this with a high degree of humility, understanding that there’s a lot to learn from other companies and people,” he said, noting that other prestige industries like finance have been able to make strides in improving their diversity in a way that the tech sector hasn’t.

Those working to make Silicon Valley more diverse face an uphill battle, according to some observers.

“I think it’s important to think about the way tech industry tends to hire,” said Ronil Hira, a professor at Howard University who has researched Silicon Valley labor practices.

Hira said companies tend to hire from the same schools and social circles, which leads to a skewing of the work force toward white men.

He also criticized an apathy on the part of companies.

“The tech industry has not been serious about this issue,” he said. “They’ve talked a big game on this, but they haven’t devoted time and resources to actually solving it. Apple is worth a trillion dollars. How hard would it be for them to fix this?”