Facebook is targeting minority parents to improve tech’s diversity gap

21 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook Launches TechPrep To Grow The Pipeline By Empowering Black And Latino Parents.

Diversity in tech is a hot topic in Silicon Valley these days—with good reason. Facebook Inc. is trying a new tactic to increase the diversity of its workforce: helping parents of minority children guide their kids into computer science.Facebook today announced the launch of TechPrep, a new online computer science and programming resource, to address what it sees as a “lack of exposure to computer science and careers in technology,” especially prevalent in “underrepresented groups including Black and Hispanic communities.” TechPrep will be available in English and Spanish, and pulls together hundreds of resources including games, books, in-person opportunities, and community events (see all the resources here).

The arguments for it are countless: diverse workforces improve the bottom line, get companies closer to their customers, help spur innovation…the list goes on. The world’s biggest social network debuted a website called TechPrep that explains how an interest in computer programming can be turned into a career. To helps children and guardians better understand the tech industry and career opportunities, Facebook breaks down types of programming, programming benefits, and the future of programming jobs. “By 2020 there will be 1 million programming jobs left unfulfilled,” Facebook says on the TechPrep website. “What are you waiting for?” It says these jobs will be well-paying, high-demand, and rewarding for kids that choose to pursue them. “Jobs in programming and other computer occupations pay very well, and are increasing at twice the national average job growth rate according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics,” it added. 50 percent of Blacks and 42 percent of Hispanics say they would be good at working with computers, compared to 35 percent of Whites and 35 percent of Asians 77 percent of parents say they do not know how to help their child pursue computer science. However, one factor that stops tech companies from hiring more minorities and women is the so-called “pipeline problem.” Indeed, in 2014 just 14.7% of computer science graduates were women, 4.1% were black and 7.7% were Hispanic, according to a report by the Computing Research Association.

Facebook says it’s aiming to open up opportunities in the booming tech industry by tapping into a wellspring of interest among Blacks and Hispanics in careers in computer science. They found: “What we see around coding and programming, is that there are some communities in which, because the parents’ capacity is not there — the guardian —that we’re losing whole generations of people who could be guided into these really lucrative, engaging, satisfying careers,” Facebook Global Director of Diversity Maxine Williams told me. “For most of them and for us, we really need to focus on how we build the capacity of these influencers. The new site is a centralized hub of resources in both Spanish and English, designed for people that want to learn more about programming—and for parents who hope to get their kids interested in tech. By adding people to engineering ranks who otherwise wouldn’t consider the profession, Facebook will be better able to handle a future shortage of computer scientists, said Maxine Williams, Facebook’s head of diversity.

The website offers information about programming careers; video interviews with programmers from underrepresented groups; and links to online and in-person resources. The Menlo Park, California-based company estimates the U.S. will have 1 million unfilled programming jobs by 2020. “That for us is a scary thing, because we’d spend all our time looking for talent,” Williams said. TechPrep lays out the variety of roles a programmer might pursue and profiles several tech workers, such as a data analyst, technical art director and electrical engineer.

Minority parents “absolutely think their children could do anything, but there’s the issue of underexposure and the issue of lack of access” to programming resources. It also touts programmers’ average annual starting salary of $62,000; companies like Facebook, Google Inc. and competitors are known to pay some talented programmers six-figure starting salaries out of college. Wiliams said Facebook will attract users to the site by partnering with community groups such as the Boys and Girls Club and the Society of Hispanic Engineers, by advertising on the Facebook platform and by going directly into community centers, libraries and other meeting places to tell people about the tool. Facebook this year said only 1 percent of its technical employees are black and 3 percent are Latino, despite the company’s efforts in the past few years to build a more diverse workforce. Bias is something that’s critical in this and it’s not a pipeline issue.” She later added, “We are doing a number of different things, but you can’t do those things and succeed if you don’t also get a more robust pipeline coming in.

And at CODE2040 we’ve found that parents and guardians remain influential in the academic and career choices of college students interested in pursuing a career in tech as well.” Facebook, like other major tech companies, is wrestling with an acute lack of diversity in its own ranks. For Claire Shorall, manager of the computer science program at the Oakland Unified School District, the focus on parents makes the tool stand out. “It’s beyond exciting to have a platform that is primarily parent-facing,” she says. “It’s so unique to have a parent-facing resources.” TechPrep is designed to allow bilingual and lower-income families to take advantage of its resources. She said she sees TechPrep as a step toward bringing adults into the field quickly while also drawing into it the children who will make up the future workforce.

The need to expand the tech talent pool goes beyond the push for diversity: One million jobs that will be left unfilled if more people are not equipped with computer science skills. Americans use the products these companies make every day, yet the companies themselves do not mirror the demographics of the United States in race, gender or age. In Fortune‘s diversity analysis of 14 major players—including Google, HP, Intel and Microsoft—Facebook was squarely in the middle of the pack in both gender and racial diversity.

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