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The Drive to Fix Tech’s Diversity Problem With a wider range of perspectives comes stronger business decision-making. IN 1975, “diversity” was not a buzzword in the American workplace lexicon, and people of color and women were drastically underrepresented in many careers. That year, Earl Pace, Jr. co-founded Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA). “We believed the disparity between the demand for IT professionals and the existing supply of prepared African Americans and other people of color presented an opportunity,” says Pace. “We were committed to filling that void.” Today, technology remains overly homogeneous, dominated by white and Asian males. But forwardthinking companies and organizations like BDPA are working to solve the problem. For example, “Over 30 years, we’ve taught 12,000 kids to code,” says BDPA President Mike A. Williams. “Even before they were calling STEM, STEM!” According to a Computing Research Association survey last year of 121 top North American colleges, black students earned 4.1% of bachelor’s degrees in computer science, information technology, and computer engineering—yet on average comprised only

2% of technology workers at seven top Silicon Valley firms willing to disclose staff demographics. Hispanic graduates also outnumbered black hires two to one. While many companies have diversified their technology workforce, much of corporate America has not, especially in Silicon Valley, says Williams: “When Google and Yahoo report that only 1% of their workforce is black, and Apple 7%, you know it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The biggest problem is there are no consequences for failing to diversify.” It makes good business sense to diversify. At Southwest Airlines, where technology is crucial to nearly all aspects of its operations, “we know the

importance of having a diverse workforce and how that benefits our bottom line,” says Shari Conaway, director of recruitment at Southwest. “We really value everybody’s unique perspectives, because those perspectives drive better business decisions.” The airline, which was the first to create a profit-sharing plan and has never had a layoff, created a Diversity Council, comprising of employees at all levels companywide. These Diversity Council members provide a direct line of communication with executives to ensure that the company’s inclusive work environment welcomes participation in pursuit of organizational goals through collaborative and respectful relationships. “Southwest Airlines endorses an innovative, dynamic workplace where employees feel supported by one another and have the opportunity to advance and thrive,” says Conaway. Appreciating fellow employees and celebrating inclusion is fostered through a dialogue series called “The Power of Inclusion,” featuring events for International Women’s Day, LGBT Pride

Month, Veterans Day, and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, to name a few. The company also maintains a Supplier Diversity Program and works with organizations such as the Alliance of Technology and Woman and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. And it conducts extensive campus outreach at over 100 universities. “From the classroom to the boardroom” is an approach BDPA supports, too. Among its many initiatives are training programs for students and scholarships funded by partner companies, along with leadership training for professionals. And BDPA offers a skilled talent pool on its jobs board, where companies can source candidates. Progress is inching forward: Google’s head of black community engagement will be speaking at the organization’s 38th annual Technology Conference in August. “The good news is that companies are aware there is a problem,” says Williams. “The question will be, what do they plan to do about it?” ●

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A branded content feature produced by Lisa Wood and the Fortune Branded Content Team