- The Kapor Foundation released an initiative with a public policy framework for making the tech industry more equitable.
- Communities of color are severely underrepresented in the growing tech industry that contributes $1.8 trillion to the national economy.
- The Kapor Foundation has given $5.3 million in grants to organizations that support its equitable tech initiative.
The technology sector plays an important role in the national economy; yet, communities of color remain underrepresented in the industry and are more likely to be negatively impacted by unregulated tech.
“Black, Latinx and Native communities have largely been kept out of the tech sector, and as a result, these communities lack access to one of the most powerful engines of wealth generation in the U.S.,” Lili Gangas, chief technology community officer at Kapor Center, told The Plug.
“Even beyond its economic impact, the exclusion of diverse voices reverberates widely in our society, from how companies regulate speech to the ideas that draw the bulk of funding in the venture ecosystem that drives innovation,” she said.
The tech industry represents nine percent of the U.S. economy, approximately $1.8 trillion, with a median wage 125 percent higher than the median national wage and tech jobs are expected to grow twice that of the national job rate over the next decade, according to CompTIA.
Kapor’s initiative outlines nine policy areas aiming to address systemic barriers to increase the participation and protection of underrepresented communities in tech.
The policy calls for expanded access to tech pathways through K-12 computer science education and new models for upskilling and hiring; promoting tech accountability through workforce data collection and accountability, whistleblower protections and gig worker safety; as well as an increase in tech infrastructure and innovation investments by closing the gap in high-speed broadband access and taxation policies that redirect money from tech companies to communities of color.
The report recommends taking corrective action where needed to incentivize progress in workforce diversity commitments. It is crucial that more companies detail their DEI progress, Gangas said.
“Data is often incomplete, and as it’s a voluntary process, shows only a fraction of the tech industry as a whole,” she said. “To understand the pain points in any organization, it’s important to not only track what demographics are represented in your workforce but associated job titles, promotions, entry, as well as retention.”
Meta’s 2022 diversity report released in July reported the company doubled its Black and Hispanic workforce in the U.S., but numbers still remain low compared to the overall American workforce.
One of the challenges in getting public policy passed is bridging the gap between the reality of the issues and the public’s perception, Gangas explained.
“There is a strong misalignment between the severity of inequality we’re seeing in terms of who has access to quality CS education, opportunities in the tech workforce, where VC dollars are allotted and the urgency with which policymakers are pursuing meaningful solutions,” she said.
Only 53 percent of high schools in the U.S. offer CS courses and low-income, Black, Latinx, Native and female students are less likely to have access to those courses, the Kapor report notes. This translates into the workforce — nine percent of the STEM workforce is Black, compared to 13 percent of the total U.S. workforce.
In addition to its policy outreach, the tech equity initiative will be used as a guide for the Kapor Foundation’s advocacy and grant priorities in the next few months. So far, it has provided over $5.3 million in grants to 14 organizations including the Heller Institute’s Institute for Economic and Racial Equity, National Center for Race and Digital Justice, DAIR Institute and Color of Change.
Color of Change, a racial justice organization, announced six policy solutions to promote racial equity in tech in September. It has been endorsed by several members of Congress including Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren.
“From facial recognition systems that open the door to unchecked government surveillance of marginalized communities, to algorithms that contain implicit biases, new technologies have often perpetuated deep-seated racial inequities in society,” Booker said in a press release.
“We need to implement privacy safeguards and robust racial justice provisions to ensure Black people and their personal information are protected digitally, and I am proud to partner on this campaign to advance equity and justice in the tech space,” he said.
The Kapor Foundation believes ensuring tech platform accountability is vitally important, particularly with the recent upheaval Elon Musk has caused at Twitter.
Black and Hispanic Americans make up the largest share of users on social media sites, but there is still a lack of accountability across platforms in monitoring hate speech and the spread of misinformation, Gangas said. Seventy-seven percent of Black adults and 80 percent of Hispanic Americans say they use at least one social media site compared to 69 percent of white Americans, according to Pew Research.
“By failing to recognize this dynamic and taking a race-blind approach to understanding free speech, platforms will create less equitable and inclusive spaces for the communities that have the most to gain from making their voices heard,” Gangas said.