It’s Time to Desegregate the Tech Industry


NewCo Shift Forum 2018/Ignite Series

Blacks and Latinos will soon be 40% of the US population. Why are they only 5% of the tech workforce?

Karla Monterroso, CEO of CODE2040, is committed to closing the opportunity gap for Blacks and Latinos in the United States. Monterroso spoke at the annual Shift Forum earlier this year, in the Shift Ignite series (full overview is here).

Karla Monterroso: Hello. I was visiting my family in Guatemala this last year. My uncle was able to recall the most salacious details of our very embarrassing American election. I said to him, “Tío, how do you know all of this stuff?” He says to me, “Mija, what happens to you all over there impacts what happens to us over here.”

Of course, my Central American family was going to understand the impacts of unchecked power on the way they live their lives. It’s a part of what I can see that the same thing is happening with the Internet today.

The Internet, the cloud, is a country. It is supposed to be built for frictionless, seamless experiences. It’s supposed to give us things that are like, “My Amazon package has got to get to me on the same day,” or “My food is going to get to me within 30 minutes.”

What if not everyone is experiencing technology in the same way? What happens when the future of the world is planned without everyone at the table?

Say, you go to a job interview. You hop into the restroom only to realize that the soap dispenser can’t recognize your skin because you are black. How do you walk into your job interview then? Or you’re a 10-year-old on your mom’s app on her telephone and realize that the biggest company in the world has identified you as a gorilla. What happens to that kid’s self-identity?

Or AI that creates restaurant rankings, and because Mexican is tagged with “illegal” or “gang member” all over the media, the mom-and-pop dream of a Mexican restaurant gets ranked lower for nothing that they did. Or worse yet, the possibility of a car, a self-driving car, that does not recognize you, your body, and your skin tone as human.

That is frightening. It’s terrifying. We are told that innovation is good. As you can see, when not everyone is at the table, there can be really toxic outcomes and impacts for so many of us.

The good news is that the black and Latinx communities are ready. We are 20 percent of all computer science degree graduates. By the time we hit the decade 2040, we will be 40 percent of the US population. We are only five percent of technical employees.

The future of work is the future of tech. The future of tech is the future of the world. That must, must, must be a world that is integrated. The great thing is never has the morally aligned thing been such the profitably aligned thing. Racially and ethnically diverse companies outperform their competitors by 33 percent.

Let’s think about that question from the other end. What happens when the future of the world is planned with everyone at the table? Can you picture what that might be like? How our experiences as a collective community might be different? [laughs]

We do not have to wait for the fictional world of Wakanda to understand what a world would look like if it was inclusive. I believe our imaginations can get us there now. We are so used to seeing the world as it has been.

Often, we don’t see the world as what it could be. At Code2040, where I am the CEO, I often see black and Latinx innovation. It’s worth the price of admission. Every year, we have at least one hackathon, where our community does ideas on the demographic shift.

I have seen everything, from a version of Pokémon Go that is a LinkedIn that helps lower your unconscious biases, to an app that helps you understand the community institutions in the town you’ve moved into so you are not unwittingly contributing to gentrification, to an app where a parent can go and find protagonists of color so their children can see protagonists of color in their children’s books.

That’s what the world can be like. When I think of the people that I love and how the choices we are making right now are going to impact them, I am convicted that we need to desegregate the tech industry. The question is, “Who are we going to hold accountable to make sure that that happens?”

Thank you.


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