I have a lot in common with many smart and talented inner-city youth. I grew up in the Baruch Housing Projects in Manhattan. When I was a teenager, I was extremely fortunate to be mentored by Bert Jordan, an African-American engineering professor.
How can we help kids of color aspire to be the next Steve Jobs, not Jay Z?
Mentorship is an all-important initiative. Children in the inner cities gravitate to images they see on television and the cloud. They routinely are exposed to rappers, sports figures, and entertainers, but no technologists of color (African and Hispanic Americans).
Male inner-city children would rather be the next Jay Z or Lebron James, not Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates. Female inner-city children aspire to become the next Beyonce or Serena Williams, not Meg Whitman or Virginia Rometty.
This may seem radical, but I believe that teaching children of color about coding and building robots is an outdated and silly concept. It's too late. Why not begin teaching them general engineering concepts and how to become technocrats while they are still in kindergarten?
All engineers should be mentors
Google's leadership should be given credit for acknowledging publicly the problem of racial diversity. Yet companies like Google are spending millions on programs that teach young people about abstract coding concepts. Why isn't every tech giant teaching kids of color about their specific technologies (search engineers, for example) and using their in-house experts as instructors?
In fact, all engineers need to step up and be mentors.
For years, there has been an effort to force Congress to push through bills to make it easier for technically skilled immigrants to receive green cards and stay in America. However, the really smart companies and countries always bet on homegrown talent. They don't go home to somewhere else at the end of the day.
Recommendations for achieving racial diversity in tech
Teaching inner-city youth what it means to be a technocrat and about technology is all-important. I have hosted, educated, and mentored hundreds of children of color, but we need to do much more to solve this complex problem.
Below are my recommendations.
- Achieve a diversity on corporate boards that reflects America, and work to ensure that these board members have proven, hands-on leadership in poor and inner-city communities.
- Identify and support role models of color.
- Large tech companies should form visible partnerships with small companies founded by people of color.
- Companies must put real money (billions), not pennies (millions), behind the diversity initiative.
- Build national, nonprofit technology centers of innovation and excellence.
- Host state-of-the-art seminars with people of color in lead roles and CEOs from major technology companies participating.
- Create a diversity trust fund, with each tech giant investing a billion dollars.
- Create and build innovative schools throughout the country based on sports and music.
- Build high-tech products in inner cities and poor communities.
- Hire youth of color to work in technology companies full-time in the summer and part-time doing the school year.
- Create pools of investment capital exclusively for tech companies that are founded by people of color and are creating innovative technologies and products. Provide government and local community oversight.
- The community of people we view as the leaders in creativity and innovation needs to be expanded to include youth of color and must be embraced and respected as the norm.
- Publicize and celebrate the accomplishments of African-American and Latino scientists and engineers.
- The government needs a Marshall plan to push forward the issue of racial diversity in the technology industry, with the president and Congress carefully monitoring all activities.
- News media should regularly cover innovation companies of color and diversity issues in technology that affect us all.
Professor Wilbert Quincy Murdock was born on the Fourth of July. A notable expert, he has been involved in science and technology for more than four decades.