This piece originally appeared on The Well, Jopwell’s editorial hub, and is written by Carita Marrow.
Each year, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) brings a group of amazingly talented computer science students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to Silicon Valley for a four-day summit. As UNCF’s senior manager, I co-organized the fifth annual HBCU Innovation Summit, which hosted 53 scholars and 20 computer science professors from 30-plus HBCUs across the country. It was an unforgettable experience.
The four-day summit empowers students of color to chart their career paths within the STEM fields and establish a presence in Silicon Valley. It’s also an important opportunity to expose leading tech companies to these talented students. Our scholars have interned at the likes of Google, Pandora, and Apple.
This year’s almost-week-long event consisted of tours of corporate tech offices, interactive sessions on topics like startups and entrepreneurship in tech, as well as providing students with opportunities to learn from some of their successful peers (including the founders of Black Valley, a self-led group of African American Silicon Valley interns) and have their resume critiqued by the very people who may one day hire them. On the other side of things, educators worked on developing curriculums that we hope will foster more innovation and entrepreneurship across HBCU campuses.
Photos at the HBCU conference at the San Mateo Marriott on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. Photo by James Tensuan
I left the summit inspired by the students’ aptitude and passion – and it definitely didn’t hurt to see leading companies, from Google to Visa, encouraging and even recruiting the scholars. Here are four things that tech companies (and the rest of us) can do to keep marching toward our collective goal of diversifying the tech workforce:
1. Open source information.
I recognize that the lack of diversity in the tech industry is not going to change overnight. But if we want to see representation rise, employers not only have to be proactive and consistent in seeking out qualified talent from all backgrounds; they also have to commit to removing any barriers candidates of color disproportionately face. That means anything from debunking the whiteboard interview and providing resources. Training for technical interviews is a good place to start. During our visit, Pure Storage and Salesforce employees ran mock interview training for students. Several employees from companies including Square and SpaceX gave up their Saturday to red-line students’ résumés during tech empowerment workshops, and NetApp even created a free data storage certification program for our scholars.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – HBCU UNCF Tech Tour 2016
2. Show up and show that you care.
Each company participating in the summit was tasked with planning an interactive program that would introduce the students to its various products. We not only wanted the students to have an opportunity to test the products but to also get exposure to these tech companies and build relationships with people running them. When my counterpart organizers within each company assembled groups of employees to work with the students, I encouraged them to be thoughtful about who they brought, ensuring that students meet a diverse mix of employees, not just in terms of color but also in terms of which departments and experience levels were represented. Veritas Technologies had their chief executive officer meet the students, and eBay had their chief executive officer, chief technology officer, and chief diversity officer on hand to connect with our students as well, which was an awesome way to make them feel valued.
SAN JOSE, CA – HBCU UNCF Tech Tour 2016
3. Acknowledge unconscious bias and seek out feedback.
A number of companies we visited made a point to ask students for their feedback around how to entice more students of color to the Valley. The team at eBay wanted to know what was and wasn’t effective about on-campus recruitment. On the hiring side, companies ought to train the people who conduct the interviews to recognize and call out implicit and unconscious biases. Then, once these diverse candidates are hired, companies must create an inclusive environment where employees of color can thrive. We cannot encourage these students to go work at tech companies if the environment there is not going to be welcoming and accommodating.
OAKLAND, CA – HBCU UNCF Tech Tour 2016
4. Challenge and empower these talented students to change the world.
On the third day of the summit, student teams pitched their startup ideas to a group of tech founders and entrepreneurs from the Kapor Center for Social Impact. The pitch competition was a chance for students to not only network but actively demonstrate their abilities, and the startups they dreamed up were awesome – from an Uber-like app for the elderly and handicapped to a platform that aggregates scholarships and jobs to help minimize student debt. Students of color have good ideas – ideas that the world needs. And it’s up to us and the various constituencies that make up Silicon Valley to remove barriers for those who don’t currently have access. It’s amazing to see what can happen when you empower these students with the resources they need in order to succeed in the tech industry. And guess what? We’re all better for it.
Images by Don Feria
The Well is the editorial hub of Jopwell, the diversity recruitment platform that helps Black, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American professionals and students connect with opportunities at top companies and unlock their career potential.