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This Digital Inclusion Index Surveys Silicon Valley’s Whiteness

The National Urban League’s latest report on inequality takes aim at the digital economy.

This Digital Inclusion Index Surveys Silicon Valley’s Whiteness
[Photo: Alex Kotliarskyi/Unsplash]

Over 41,000 people work at Google, Facebook, and Twitter but less than 2% of that workforce—only about 750 employees—is black. The rest of the tech industry mirrors that trend with African-American representation at 5% overall.

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The National Urban League has taken that employment disparity, along with many other easily comparative social and economic variables to create its Digital Inclusion Index, which finds that black America has 74.1% of white America’s benefits from the digital economy. It shows how often people of color are getting a fair chance at upward mobility within the tech sector compared to their white counterparts.

The best way to think about that metric is as a pie chart: It represents that people of color are afforded access and opportunity to attain only three-quarters of the total pie in terms of knowledge growth, empowerment, and financial reward. More specifically, that total share is built off a weighted comparison of three factors: Digital skills and occupations account for 35% of that share, with digital access being another 35%, and supportive digital policies worth 30% of the total.

As a related report, entitled “Save Our Cities: Powering The Digital Revolution,” explains, the metric helps answer a basic question: “Are the new jobs, business, and educational opportunities created by increased digitization of our world being equally shared?”

The answer is not yet. “There’s no doubt that technology is now the axis upon which the 21st-century economy is turning,” says Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League. “I believe there’s another Mark Zuckerberg in the black community,” he adds. “There’s somebody out there with a great idea. They may not have the visibility, the contacts, or the access to venture capital to be able to grow their business, but there is talent out there.”

The first step toward change, of course, is recognizing the roots of the problem. To that end, the National Urban League has tracked variables like how many black families have home computers, whether or not that means they can access high-speed broadband, and how much tech-related R&D money is flowing to historically black colleges, along with field-related student graduation rates compared to who gets hired.

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But the report also demonstrates the multitude of ways that talented people suffering institutionalized discrimination can lose out. The stats break the digital divide down into specific areas where nonprofits, companies, and city governments are falling short. On the business side, that may mean reviewing inclusion efforts in hiring practices for instance. Despite starting from behind, and earning fewer tech-related degrees than whites, there are still far more qualified black graduates than are getting hired at big companies.

The report is part of Urban League’s annual State of Black America series, which it has published annually since 2005. The Urban League decided to create a separate Digital Inclusion Index for the first time this year because there hasn’t been much race-related progress since the group began its accounting efforts. In fact, while success in different categories has fluctuated–the Affordable Care Act was a great boon for health improvement, for instance–the relative distance between black and white progress has changed only 0.4% since the inception of the measurement more than a decade ago. “Black people in America are like a caboose on a train. When a train speeds up, black people speed up but are still in the caboose car,” Morial adds.

On the tech side, the report dives deeper to count minority-focused versus more general business accelerators, and compares the number of black to white employees at many well-known companies: Google, Facebook, and Twitter are obviously included, as are Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Salesforce.

The report explores how the Urban League has been working to change these numbers, by counseling some companies on better inclusion and hiring policies, and advising many more through its role on the FCC’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Employment.  “For technology to be the game changer that we all want it to be, everybody has to be included, not just as consumers but as people who can benefit from the economic opportunity,” Morial says.

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About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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