Last Thursday, Color Of Change, a civil rights non-profit, released its Beyond the Statement: Tech Framework. The framework calls for tech firms to proactively preserve and enhance the civil rights of their users online and explains how tech companies can promote racial equity.
Color Of Change, the largest online racial justice organization in the U.S, seeks to hold corporations and political institutions accountable to advance racial equity and empower Black communities.
After the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police last summer, several tech companies committed to advancing racial justice, however, Color Of Change cautions that remarks without actions to accompany them are meaningless.
“It is crucial that tech companies across the sector address discrimination in their businesses from noxious white nationalist content on social platforms to targeted and predatory advertising to biased algorithmic decision marking to inequitable work environments,” the report argues.
The organization’s framework identified six pillars that are needed to hold tech companies accountable for their commitments to racial justice: increase transparency; evaluate products for discrimination; recruit, hire, and support a diverse workforce; hire and empower internal civil rights staff; hold internal decision-makers accountable; and divest from police and mass incarceration.
Tech companies are among the fastest-growing businesses right now. A 2021 report by the Conference Board, a firm that researches businesses and their practices, found the racial wage gap is most notable in industries undergoing rapid growth.
Black representation among top earners in the tech industry is remarkably low at an estimated two to four percent, according to the Conference Board’s report, which also predicts tech companies will continue to experience rapid growth that could exacerbate the racial wealth gap.
Color Of Change’s framework aims to provide a solution to the racial wealth gap while promoting civil rights online, creating a safe, equitable corporate environment for Black employees and providing protections for Black users.
The company’s report suggests tech companies must do the following to fulfill the promises they have made to promoting racial equity in the workplace:
- Perform public racial equity audits regarding algorithmic management to acknowledge the successes and/or downfalls regarding civil rights and racial equity. Doing so would allow for the public to know where companies stand in terms of minimizing racial discrimination.
- Move away from discriminatory non-disclosure agreements and toward non-retaliation policies so employees may safely report discrimination.
- Analyze products to know if and how they negatively impact civil rights. Further research into how Black users are affected by their products will allow for companies to create products with equitable intentions.
- Hire a more diverse group of technologists in company leadership. With increased diversity in the workforce, tech companies would bring in workers who understand the corporate dangers of white supremacy and anti-Blackness, which would cause a culture shift from the top-down.
- Bring in civil rights staff so they can ensure their products are used as tools for racial equity, rather than furthering inequity gaps.
- Invest in Black communities and use their products to benefit them, rather than ‘propping up’ police departments and/or other law enforcement agencies that engage in anti-Black practices.
The organization acknowledges sustaining the framework would vary from business to business, as it would scale to the size of the business.
Color Of Change is not alone in wanting to hold tech companies accountable by enacting new, racially equitable policies.
In January, Dr. Alondra Nelson was appointed as the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). She has studied the intersection of race, society and tech during the entirety of her career as a researcher.
“Nelson’s appointment in this role is among the strongest signals that the Biden White House could send that it’s taking science and technology policy seriously and that it’s taking this mandate to make tech more just seriously as well,” Nathalie Marechal, Senior Policy and Partnerships Manager at Ranking Digital Rights, told The Plug.
The charge to make science and tech more just is born from a history in which people of color have faced discrimination. One of the most striking examples of technology’s perpetuation of racism can be found in the U.S. justice system.
AI is used to create criminal risk assessments, which is a tool designed to quantify a defendant’s background and provide what is known as a recidivism score. According to ProPublica, Black defendants are 77 times more likely to get a higher recidivism score than white defendants, regardless of their backgrounds.
When creating policies to address racial inequities caused by tech, it must be acknowledged that tech is not inherently neutral; it does not exist in a vacuum, according to Marechal.
She posits that policies must consider who creates the data that drives new technologies like algorithms and if there are any structural inequities reinforced through it.
Merve Hickok, the founder of AIethicist.org, a global repository of scholarship on AI ethics and AI’s impact on society, believes creating ethical tech requires acknowledging and addressing past injustices.
“We don’t live in a fair and just society, and there are historical reasons for that,” Hickok told The Plug. She is confident there will be a focus on exposing the structural and systemic biases perpetuated by tech throughout history so it may cease to continue.
Federal ethical standards on tech like AI and algorithmic management have become increasingly necessary. Nelson’s commitment to making science and tech more just signals a step toward mitigating the racial gaps furthered by tech.
Nelson understands tech to be a human phenomenon, that the biases found in tech are a result of human inputs.
“In my career, I’ve sought to understand the perspective of people and communities who are not usually in the room when inputs are made, but live with the outputs, nonetheless,” Nelson said after she was appointed.
Both Color Of Change and Nelson seek to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for Black citizens, both offline and online; in the workplace and outside it. It is time to address the history of tech so that a new, inclusive future can be made possible.
Sponsored Series: This reporting is made possible by the The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation based in Kansas City, Mo., that seeks to build inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-focused economic development. The Foundation uses its $3 billion in assets to change conditions, address root causes, and break down systemic barriers so that all people – regardless of race, gender, or geography – have the opportunity to achieve economic stability, mobility, and prosperity. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with us at www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.