Going to school in the field of journalism during the early ’80s, I remember the push for more minority reporters.
Journalism is supposed to be fair and unbiased, but it is sometimes just a fact that minority reporters are able to get a better understanding of issues in their own communities and bring a different perspective than some of their white peers.
Today the push for diversity has spread to the technology field. While minorities are major tech consumers and all over social media, when it comes to actually working in this high-paying field we are behind once again.
The number of black men earning science and engineering doctorates grew by more than 25 percent in 10 years, according to the National Science Foundation. While that appears sizeable, the absolute numbers barely budged between 2003 and 2013 – from 631 of 13,921 recipients to 798 of 16,542 recipients – and the representation has stayed essentially flat, between 4.5 percent and 4.8 percent of all science and engineering doctorates.
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The number of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded to black men increased 45 percent, from 12,484 in 2002 to 18,102 in 2012. But similarly, black men as a proportion of all science and engineering bachelor’s degree recipients has remained essentially unchanged: 6.1 percent in 2002 and 6.2 percent in 2012.
And, it doesn’t get much better in the workforce, or for women.
In 2010, African-American men made up 6.2 percent of the population between 18 and 64 years old. But in the same year, the NSF reported that black men represented just 3 percent of scientists and engineers. Outside of management, software developers and hardware engineers are among the highest-paid jobs in the industry. Estimates are that fewer than 13 percent of computer engineers in the Silicon Valley are female. Far fewer are African-American women.
Efforts are underway locally to change this problem.
One of these initiatives is a program called Hackstarter founded by Bernard Worthy of Durham.
Worthy grew up in Marietta, Georgia, and understands how often times cities are divided by railroad tracks or other forces, Fresh out of college, he went through a management training program at Macy’s in Raleigh where he had to manage about 30 people at their Crabtree location.
“I managed people three times older than me, as well as some who were younger than me,” he says. “I had to learn different team and inter-personal dynamics and how to gain respect as a young authority figure. I had to rally my staff around me, and I learned that smart leaders in business learn how to delegate well.”
Bernard has always been an entrepreneur at the core, and after moving to Durham and getting plugged in at American Underground, he felt he needed to have a better understanding of coding to be able to build his own ideas.
He enrolled in The Iron Yard, a coding booting camp, where he worked 60 to 80 hours a week and gained enough knowledge to land a software engineer position at CrossComm, a local web and mobile development firm.
But Bernard realized the price point of a lot of these programs ($10K-$20K) is too high for many people. So he is launching Hackstarter, a crowdfunding platform that lets friends, family, and even companies donate or lend money to a student for programming school. If donations fall short, Hackstarter will connect the student to a third-party financing with low interest rates.
President Obama has pinned coding bootcamps as the ticket to the middle class, and Bernard hopes that Hackstarter.com (set to launch this month) can help.
He also praises such programs as Black Girls Code, Hack the Hood, and Code2040 which are working to diversity the tech field. And he notes NCCU, Duke and Durham Tech are working on diversity as well.
Let’s hope these initiatives help. Just as we are still talking about fairness and lack of diversity in media almost 50 years after unfair coverage of the civil rights struggle by mainstream media, we do not need to be having this conversation about representation in the technology and computer fields in the 22nd century.
The problem exists now, and we can work on changing it now!
You can reach Marc Lee at email@example.com.