Networking and Capital Are Greatest Obstacles to Race and Gender Inclusion in Silicon Valley
Black Enterprise Magazine July/August 2018 Issue

On Monday, Congressman Donald Payne (D- NJ) held a Google Hangout to discuss the lack of African American representation in the tech industry. The panel was sponsored by CBC Tech 2020, an initiative recently launched by the Congressional Black Caucus with the aim of increasing African American inclusion at every level of the technology sector by 2020.

Anthony Frasier, co-founder of The Phat Startup, and Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code joined Payne to identify the barriers that minorities face in the industry, what changes tech companies and venture capitalists should implement to enhance inclusion, and how the federal government should respond to the disparities. The Phat Startup produces resources for aspiring, millennial-age, minority entrepreneurs, while Black Girls Code introduces girls from underrepresented communities to computer programming, robotics, and app development.

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Leading tech companies hire African Americans and Hispanics with computer science and computer engineering degrees at half the rate that universities produce them, according to a USA Today report in October 2014. Another report found that at the seven Silicon Valley companies that would release their EEO-1 data on race and ethnicity, only 2% of the tech workers employed were African American.

“Here at the CBC, we want to try to do whatever we can to get the information out about support efforts such as yours throughout the nation to help in closing those gaps,” said Payne who questioned his guests about the barriers that minorities face when trying to launch innovative companies and find employment at tech companies.

Frasier explained that the obstacles he encountered were two-fold. “I [was not] located in Silicon Valley or in any networks where people can help me to get information on how to build a company and how to raise money,” explained the Newark-raised entrepreneur who scored an internship at a tech company after his own gaming review website grew to 200,000 unique views per month. “Those are things that people who come from my background don’t have access to.”

Bryant agreed that many underrepresented minorities don’t have a broad network of venture capitalists, which inhibits them from raising money. “Women and minorities have a lack of access to capital as a funding source. Venture capital is like the fuel for the engine in the startup economy, especially in the Bay Area,” says Bryant, whose organization has amassed some 3,000 volunteers who teach and mentor girls at one-day workshops and one-week summer camps nationwide. “I see a lot of new entrepreneurs who don’t have what they need to get their ventures off the ground. And that circles back to what Anthony mentioned about the network. Being able to loosen those forms of capital will help them to build better, more sustainable, larger businesses in a quicker fashion at a more comparative pace to their peers in the industry.”

When asked by participants what role the government should play towards unlocking diversity in Silicon Valley, Frasier suggested that it could put more pressure on the companies, but that Feds would need to make some changes of their own. “The government is slow and entrepreneurship is a fast, agile thing. Time is not something we have on our side.”

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.