[highlight]A SMALL GROUP OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN TECH LEADERS MET RECENTLY FOR A[/highlight]
[highlight]ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION THAT WAS FUNNY, FRANK, AND UNCOMPROMISING.[/highlight]
As part of the reporting on this month’s magazine profile of Tristan Walker, Fast Company brought together a roundtable discussion of other African-American tech leaders. The conversation spanned everything from hiring practices of top firms to entrepreneurial funding.
Fast Company: What are your thoughts about the diversity reports from Apple, Facebook, Google, and other tech companies?
Larry “L.J.” Erwin: I know the numbers are unsettling, but I applaud the Googles and the Facebooks and Yahoos for actually releasing those numbers. I’ve worked in an industry before called “finance.” It’s been around for at least 150 to 175 years, and the numbers (a) are not as open and as transparent as they are at Google and Facebook and (b) are probably about the same, 1% to 3% [of the total workforce]. And they’ve got a 120-year, 125-year head start over Silicon Valley. So Silicon Valley is definitely scaling at a faster rate than finance.
Tyler Scriven: I have a slightly different view. In the report that Google published, they said they’ve spent roughly $40 million on diversity efforts over the past 10 years. They’ve spent, I’ll guess, several hundreds of millions of dollars in the past two years on self-driving cars. If companies like Google truly wanted to solve this problem, they’d spend more than $40 million over 10 years and make a much more significant effort. So my conclusion is that right now we actually don’t want to solve it.
Amoy Walker: Just looking at the numbers is not enough. Like, what is the actual issue: Why are there not enough African-Americans in STEM, and what’s the recruiting process? That’s what we need to focus on, rather than the chatter around numbers.
Erin Teague: The problem starts much earlier, right? Only about 4% of the total engineering graduates every year are black, and only 18% of the total computer-science graduates are women. There need to be more people who enter college and pick these majors. But the real problem is at the top of the funnel, as in K–12. Most students decide at a very young age whether or not they’re good in math and science.
Tony Gauda: Traditionally, the African-American successes children see are athletes and entertainers; they’re not STEM. I had a home that was very supportive of engineering and STEM, and I just thought it was my only alternative since I couldn’t play basketball, and I definitely can’t dance.