“Help!” urges my friend’s kindergartner. She hands me a toy with so many components, I’m not sure what to do. Buttons and lights and what I think might be wheels have me stupefied, leaving her impatient and grabbing the gadget from my hands so she can fix the problem herself within minutes. Yeah, so, a 6-year-old is smarter than me. Cool. Once I brush off my damaged ego, I realize I’m actually thrilled. She’s part of a generation that could solve some of the world’s most monumental problems with her remarkable STEM skills.
WOMEN IN NUMBERS: 7 Percent
Part of the reason this little girl kicks butt at figuring out the intricacies of gadgets is that she has the opportunity to do so. Her parents encourage her with techie figure-stuff-out toys. Some kids don’t have this advantage, and frankly, many adults don’t either. In fact, despite the growing need for experienced workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, the tech industry isn’t tapping into one of America’s fastest-growing populations: minorities. By 2040, Latinos and African-Americans will make up 42 percent of the U.S. population, yet currently, minorities account for only 7 percent of the tech-sector workforce.
WOMAN TO WATCH: Laura Weidman Powers, Co-founder and CEO of Code2040
We’re excited to share the story of a woman who sees that percentage as an opportunity rather than a reason to stop trying. Laura Weidman Powers is the co-founder and head boss lady of Code2040, a nonprofit that aims to put more underrepresented individuals in STEM positions in the next couple decades. Simply put, Laura is working to change the face of tech by creating pathways to success for African-American and Latino people in the “innovation economy.”
Laura’s impressive career spans community-service organizations, corporate America and, of course, the tech industry. Ebony magazine placed this Harvard and Stanford grad on its Power 100 list, she’s been recognized by Fortune as one of 10 Female Executives on the Rise, Goldman Sachs named her a Most Intriguing Entrepreneur and The Root called her one of the 100 Most Influential African-Americans—twice!
These accolades wouldn’t be possible without Laura’s fervent effort to represent Latinos and African-Americans proportionately in the tech sector. In 2017, Laura closed the year with Code2040’s biggest class to date, with 200 graduates. And she’s nabbing the funding to sustain Code2040, recently raking in more than $5 million to help finance the nonprofit’s important work.
Code2040 offers targeted programs to catapult that 2040 goal, including a 10-week accelerator intensive for students. Top tech companies partner with the organization to offer internships, which allows them to educate future STEM innovators and potentially recruit the next generation of tech geniuses.
Laura has always been in the business of helping others achieve actionable change. In 2016, she even joined the Obama administration as a senior advisor to the U.S. chief technology officer, focusing on increasing diversity in hiring practices, particularly in emergent STEM industries.
As Laura reflects on 2017, she identifies a significant word that will, no doubt, lead her on toward 2040: rally. She says time spent alone doesn’t lead to progress; rallying together under the causes we care about is key. And that means not relying on what Laura calls “unicorns in tech entrepreneurship.”
There’s no one answer, approach or single person we should rely on to effect change in the tech industry. It’s up to all of us to elevate the work of African-American and Latino entrepreneurs and to put pressure on investors—namely those who say diversity is paramount—to put their money where their mouths are.
QUITE THE QUOTE
Today’s quote comes from political activist and academic Angela Davis:
“You have to act as if it were possible to radically change the world. And you have to do it all the time.”
This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.