Sourcing Silicon Valley’s Diversity
- by Rod Robinson
There has recently been a lot of discussion about the lack of workforce diversity in Silicon Valley. The discussion came to a head after several large Silicon Valley companies released their less-than-stellar workforce diversity data. Blacks and Hispanics make up only 5 percent of the Valley’s aggregate workforce despite representing over 30 percent of the U.S. population. I am not writing to dwell on historical numbers, but to simply offer my perspective and propose solutions for the future.
I applaud the efforts of nonprofits such as Code2040, which aims to create access, awareness and opportunities for blacks and Latinos. I also praise Apple for donating $40 million to the Thurgood Marshall Fund to support computer science education at historically black colleges and universities. While these are great initiatives that will likely help increase the future talent pipeline, I believe that tech-focused supplier diversity initiatives hold the key to potential breakthroughs that could accelerate the talent pipeline.
Here are the four key reasons:
1. Existing Market of Over 1,000 Diverse Information Technology Firms
According to the ConnXus supplier database, there are more than 1,000 U.S.-based information technology companies owned by women and minorities. These companies range in size from startups generating under $500,000, to mature companies generating over $100 million annually. Most of these companies operate globally across various IT disciplines, including software development, consulting, Internet security and staffing services
These corporations compete for top tech talent—talent that may have a negative view of Silicon Valley firms. As such, this perception may lead employees to work at a smaller company or to start their own.
However, a robust supplier diversity program focused on engaging and contracting with such firms could be a great way to change perceptions and build value-added partnerships in the process.
2.Mentoring Opportunity for Silicon Valley Firms
Many corporate supplier diversity programs consist of mentor/protégé programs. These programs are designed to enable large, successful companies to provide various forms of business development assistance to smaller emerging companies.
The goals are to:
- Enhance the capability of the emerging firms to be competitive
- Achieve entrepreneurial success
- Contribute to the strength and vigor of the broader economy.
For example, Facebook is working with a minority-owned software development firm that specializes in security. A mentor/protégé program develops in the process, and Facebook helps this supplier develop skills in virtualization and other IT growth areas.
3. Building a Talent Pipeline While Having Economic Impact
As a former consultant and corporate operations executive, I’ve been on both sides of the talent poaching equation. It is commonplace for a consultant or contract employee to get hired away from his or her company by a satisfied client. That’s merely another benefit of a robust supplier diversity program. In an environment where competition for diversity talent is especially fierce, it is extremely beneficial to have multiple sources feeding the pipeline.
4. Increased Focus on Diversity in Tech Entrepreneurship
My firm was recently profiled in an article that focused on the lack of venture capital-backed startups with black founders. While ConnXus was among 14 identified venture-backed firms with black founders, I don’t mention that to toot my own horn. Instead, those numbers are nothing to cheer about. There is still much work to be done in this area.
It is great to see several initiatives underway, though, including one that I am very proud to be a part of: the TechStars Foundation. The goal of the foundation is to improve diversity in entrepreneurship by providing opportunities for underrepresented entrepreneurs, through grants, scholarships and sponsorships. By providing access and opportunity to underrepresented minorities, we will create stronger entrepreneur communities worldwide.
I applaud the efforts to increase minority hiring at tech companies, but I would also like to see a simultaneous movement to support the growth of minority- and women-owned IT organizations. By doing so, we help build a culture of job creators.