Entrepreneur and Investor Talks


When will tech look like America?

At Splash Oakland, Oakland's Mayor talks to diversity leaders from Google, Kapor, Pandora

Innovation series by Bambi Francisco Roizen
May 22, 2015
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The US has a racially and ethnically diverse population and there are more women than men, yet the tech world doesn't mirror this. Talk about diversity, or more accurately the lack of it, in the workplace is a hot-button topic, especially in Silicon Valley.

At Vator Splash Oakland 2015, we thought it made sense to take a deep dive into this discussion. After all, Oakland is one of the more diverse communities in the country. And with tech startups, jobs and investments booming across the Bay and now overflowing into Oakland, the question is very germane there: Will Oaklanders have the same opportunities to start tech companies and rise in the ranks? Or will the typical all-white-male makeup inside corporate tech America continue unabated and leave Oakland's diverse population of Blacks and Hispanics and of course women, out of the picture? If Oakland's tech ecosystem can reflect the diversity of the people who live there, then it would be a role model for the country. 

So we partnered with Kapor Capital and co-founder Freada Kapor Klein to pull together diversity leaders across technology. We also asked the Mayor of Oakland to jump into the discussion to hear her views on how government policies could help bring about gender and racial parity in the workplace. 

Evie Nagy, writer at Fast Company, moderated the panel that discussed "When will tech look like America?" at Vator Splash Oakland 2015. The panelist were Freada Kapor Klein, Co-Founder of Kapor Center; Libby Schaaf, Mayor of City of Oakland; Kimberly Bryant, Founder of Black Girls Code; Nilka Thomas, Manager of Global Diversity and Talent Inclusion, Google; and Lisa Lee, Senior Diversity Manager at Pandora.

Here are some highlights:

Freada Kapor Klein kicked off the panel discussion with stats on the makeup of tech companies, showing that two-thirds are male, 60% are white, 28-30% Asian and 3% Black. "This isn't what America looks like," she said. She explained the "leaky tech pipeline" metaphor, in which aspiring minorities drop out of the path toward successful tech careers while getting education and entering and remaining in the workforce. Some reasons include the "Pygmalion Effect" which is when teacher's positive influence and expectations for certain students produces positive results. Kapor Klein suggested that teachers placed greater expectations on some students, and lowered expectations on blacks and minorities. So they drop out of getting educated, or they do poorly. In the workforce, they lack role models and they experience resume bias, so they eventually drop out then as well. Kapor Klein emphasized the need for society to rid itself of bias and culture differences. 

Nilka Thomas of Google spoke of Google's policies and plans to address the lack of diversity inside the corporate giant. "Part of this, is being transparent," she said. "The more we push organizations to push data, the mopre progress we'll make.... People don't change when they see the light, they change when they feel the heat." Increasingly, data about the makeup of Google is being shared with all employees, including the many men who work there, she said, explaining that if 70-80% of your organization are men, they need to be part of the conversation. Thomas also said that Google is not only working with K-12 programs, but college programs too. For instance, they have Google engineers working on five campuses and working with minorities to prepare them for the workforce. 

Mayor Libby Schaaf said she's focused a lot on making sure pre-school is available to all parents. She pointed out a statistic that showed that 40% of kids entering Kindergarten weren't ready. "We need to enable kids to get into pre-school," she said. She also spoke of raising the minimum wage because a family with two-working parents who can't be home with their children make it harder for them to encourage and teach them when they're young. She emphasized that policies were one thing, but human relationships trumped any policy. She stressed "social capital" and relationships as the most important piece to the puzzle of bringing more diversity into the workforce. She also suggested that the big sprawling corporate campuses with free food and amenities isolated workers from the real world. "No offense," she said in jest to Nilka, from Google, but in order for tech to survive in the long run, the workers have to get out of the "sprawling, soul-less campuses." 

Kimberly Bryant brought up the important issue of paycheck parity when it came to women and men. She stressed that until that question was addressed, we wouldn't see gender parity in the workplace. Even though she is from San Francisco, she moved her organization to Oakland because, as she put it, it's "much more brown" in the East Bay.

Lisa Lee talked about how Pandora doesn't have a cafeteria with free food and drinks. Rather, the culture there is one of supporting the locals. The absence of free food was designed to encourage workers to eat at the local restaurants and mix with the locals. 

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Description: MISSION The Kapor Center for Social Impact relentlessly pursues creative strategies that will leverage information technology for positiv...
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Bio: As a Partner at Kapor Capital, Freada Kapor Klein, Ph.D. invests in women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color whose tech s...
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