By and large the tech companies of today don’t excel at hiring black, Latinx, and other professionals from minority backgrounds. These minority individuals often don’t have the connections to get hired in an ecosystem where it’s often who you know, not what you know, that gets you ahead.
It’s not that HR departments don’t want to make their companies more diverse. They’re just not always sure how to do it.
“The greatest challenge is the belief that there is a silver bullet,” says Laura Weidman Powers, founder of Code2040. “While many companies take a unique and nuanced approach to other aspects of their businesses, all too often they seek an out-of-box solution when it comes to diversity and inclusion.”
Code2040 is a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit committed to drastically increasing the number of minority applicants and hires at tech and other companies by 2040, the year when people of color will have reached a majority of the U.S. population. Slowly but surely, minorities are making up more and more of the workforce each year, and there’s no single approach to incorporating them into any particular company.
“Each company needs to look at its specific practices, attitudes, and norms and how these things may hinder or help the development of a diverse workforce,” says Powers. “We’re able to push back on this (one-size fits all) thinking through ongoing feedback generated in our student programs and the range of trainings and support we offer companies.”
Meeting the Needs of 2040
It hasn’t always been Powers’ mission to increase the number of minorities represented in the tech industry. In 2011, she was transitioning out of her old job when she noticed just how few people she met in the tech community at large were not white and male. This realization caught her attention so much that she knew she wanted to help change it.
“I’d noticed that when I went out to speak on panels, network at events, and when I read the daily tech blogs each morning, there appeared to be a significant lack of diversity in the field overall,” she says.
As it sunk in that by 2040 the population of the U.S. would be majority-minority, she saw that changing needs of the people could easily go unmet by the tech world.
“In 25 years, our country will look different. The consumer base will look different. The workforce will look different,” she says. “But these two trends are poised to interact in a way that could be debilitating. At the rate that we’re producing technologists, 70% of tech jobs will go unfilled in just five years.”
So Powers and her team designed multiple solutions to tackle the problem from different sides. Code2040 offers programs designed to help Black and Latino talent find “pathways to the innovation economy.” The goal is not only to deepen the pool of talent available to companies looking to hire diverse applicants, but also to simultaneously help companies make their cultures more inclusive.
The nonprofit offers its Fellows Program, a 10-week career accelerator that connects post-secondary black and Latinx computer science students with internships at top tech companies. It also has a “Tech Trek” program, which brings 50 Black and Latinx engineering students together from across the U.S. for an “alternative spring break” consisting of peer-bonding along with visits to tech companies.
Finally, Code240 will soon begin its Company Culture Transformation Program. Starting in the Fall of this year, the program offers diversity assessment, training, and coaching for partner companies.
“By being both student- and company-facing in our work, we are able to collect valuable data on industry hiring practices,” Powers says. “Additionally, our unique position of guiding students through the internship interview process allows Code2040 to ‘pattern spot’ what is and isn’t working at the companies we partner with and to provide them with solutions to improve their hiring process.”
When Demographics Flip
Part of what underscores Code2040’s work is that companies shouldn’t just want to change their hiring practices to look good. Demographics are actually changing, and organizations need to change too in order to cater to consumers. If they don’t, they may not survive.
“Companies struggle today to attract, hire, and retain the diverse talent that is already graduating from universities with technical expertise and the diverse talent that is already in the workforce. What happens when the demographics of emerging professionals are the flip of the demographics of established professionals?”
The country’s wage gap is also a concern for the folks at Code2040. With the average tech worker making more than the median household income of a black and a Latino family combined, it’s no wonder.
“Code2040 aims to close the wealth gap in the United States, and to advance racial equity in the workplace,” Powers says. “This challenge is also a tremendous opportunity. Because tech jobs aren’t just any jobs — they’re stable, high paying jobs. Ensuring better representation for communities of color in tech could have a huge impact on black and Latinx communities’ ability to build generational wealth.”
Beyond what having greater generational wealth will do for individual families, Laura believes the introduction of change into the system will strengthen the country as a whole.
“Ensuring that open roles in tech are filled with people from all backgrounds not only ensures companies have the best shot at success as America diversifies but also ensures families and communities with historically low access to wealth building opportunities can thrive as well, making the country as a whole stronger.”
Code2040 has doubled in size every year as an organization, currently with a team of about 25. It will work with more than 1,000 students and professionals and 50 different tech companies across their various programs this year. Around 90% of their fellows get return offers from summer employers, and 100% go on to work in tech. Several of their alums have founded their own tech companies.
“Our goal is to ensure that by the year 2040 Blacks and Latino/as are proportionally represented as technologists, investors, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs. We believe the tech sector, communities of color, and the country as a whole will be stronger if talent from all backgrounds is included in the creation of the companies, programs, and products of tomorrow.”