The Congressional Black Caucus is taking action to address the lack of diversity at tech-industry giants like Facebook and Google. It’s hosting an event Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to launch the CBC Tech 2020 initiative, The Hill reports.
The event, which will take place at the Library of Congress, will outline diversity; discuss best practices; present legislation on increasing STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—education; and spotlight African-American students and entrepreneurs, according to a CBC statement.
“Many of the technology companies have African Americans as very loyal customers, and many of those don’t have any African Americans on their boards,” CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) told The Hill. “Their senior leadership within many of these companies is not inclusive, and the workforce is appalling. And their reinvestment in African-American communities is less than desirable.”
A USA Today study showed that black and Hispanic students are graduating with computer science degrees from top universities at twice the rate that big tech companies hire them.
Google came clean last year about its lack of diversity. The data revealed that African Americans made up just 2 percent of its employees. This revelation came after considerable pressure to unveil its hiring figures.
“The numbers tell the story, and action is long overdue,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said,according to USA Today. “Inclusion of African Americans in the tech workforce has been treated as an afterthought for far too long. As the momentum for change continues to build, companies are starting to see that innovation requires a representative and diverse workforce.”
The CBC invited tech-company representatives to attend today’s event. Black lawmakers want to open the door to communication and impress upon the companies the urgent need for diversity.
“We will not rule out a confrontation if it becomes [that],” Butterfield told USA Today. “We want to work with these companies to try to connect them with qualified African-American students and individuals.”
It was a pleasantly “shocking” moment that Dara Solomon and Fela Strickland-Smith will always remember. At its Entrepreneur’s Summit last month, Black Enterprise awarded the sisters its Family Business of the Year award.
Smith recalled not really expecting to win, while filling out the contest application. At best, the sibling business partners “hoped to be recognized” by the magazine. Shortly after entering the contest, they received an e-mail from Black Enterprise announcing their nomination. That acknowledgment alone made them feel like winners. But it was a magical moment when they actually won.
“In our hearts it was a stamp of confirmation that the sacrifices we made to get this far were worth it,” Smith said.
The sisters launched Satori Interactive in 2004, with no entrepreneurial experience, business adviser or employees. What they did have, though, were confidence, solid family support and successful careers in the male-dominated technology industry, where blacks and women are underrepresented.
In a 2013 U.S. Census report (PDF), based on 2011 figures, men represented about 75 percent of the workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. Blacks comprise just 6 percent of that job sector. And when it comes to software development, whites held nearly 60 percent of those jobs, followed by Asians at about 30 percent.
Smith graduated from Virginia Union University, with a degree in math and computer science. She worked 15 years as a senior information technology professional, managing projects for top corporate companies.
Her younger sister studied industrial engineering at North Carolina A&T, later earning a master’s in human computer interaction at the university. She worked 18 years in the tech industry, making computer platforms more user-oriented and teaching those skills at the Art Institute of Atlanta.
They bring their education, talents and passion to Satori, which provides a range of business-to-business technology services. Located in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, the company is uniquely adept at making computer applications user-friendly.
Taking the plunge into entrepreneurship evolved from their close relationship. The sisters, even though they worked for different companies, would always consult with each other. Smith would often call her sister to talk about projects she was working on. And Solomon, who specializes in human factors in IT development, would ask if she considered the users. At one point, they realized that those types of conversations were happening more-and-more often.
“Fela, being the big sister that she is, said, ‘hey, why don’t we start a company,’” Solomon recalled, with a slight chuckle. “I said, you know, that’s probably a good idea.”
Smith said they have “very complementary skills,” and there were gaps in the technology industry where they could find a comfortable niche to grow their business.
Satori, by definition, is a Buddhist term that means a state of enlightenment. The sisters are not Buddhist, but they thought it expresses perfectly that “ah-ha” moment that their clients experience.
The company’s foundation is user research and understanding how people and technology interact. To that end, they organize focus groups to see how potential customers interact with their clients’ software or website.
“That’s when clients often experience ah-ha moments,” Solomon explained. “They’ll say ‘that’s why people are having trouble with our website.’”
There was never a doubt that the sisters would choose careers in technology. Their father was an electrical engineer who encouraged them, at an early age, to focus on STEM occupations.
“He told us, ‘as women you could do anything a man could do in science and technology,’” Smith reflected.
His encouragement was invaluable. As women in a male-dominated field, the sisters often had to prove themselves early in their careers. Even today, they’re usually the only women—and almost always the only black women—in the room.
“Our father would tell us, ‘if you’re good at what you do, people respect you and they welcome your suggestions and feedback. Nobody can take your knowledge away from you,’” Solomon recalled.
A USA Today analysis uncovered a hiring disparity in the tech industry. According to that report, elite universities graduate black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering majors at a rate two times higher than companies hire them.
The under-representation of blacks in the tech industry is a challenge that the Congressional Black Caucus is addressing through its CBC Tech 2020 initiative. It brings together the tech, nonprofit, education and public sectors to increase African American inclusion in the tech industry.
Solomon advises young black girls not to fear “stepping outside the accepted boundaries” and to pursue their interest in science and technology.
“The only barriers that are out there are the ones you create,” said Smith. “Move forward without thinking about what might hold you back.”
The DNA-screening method, called stool DNA (sDNA), detected precancer in African Americans at rates similar to or higher than those of other racial groups. And in some respects, it was more effective than another often-utilized noninvasive screening method, called the fecal immunochemical test, or FIT.
The American Cancer Society reports that African Americans have the highest colorectal-cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the U.S. but are less likely to get screened.
The researchers call the colonoscopy the “gold standard” of colorectal-cancer screening. But many people don’t have access to the procedure or refuse to tolerate the preparation for the test. The noninvasive alternatives can be ordered through a health care provider and performed in the privacy of one’s home.
“Given the known racial disparities in colonoscopies between African Americans and other racial groups, this noninvasive technology may offer a promising screening alternative,” said Dr. Gregory Cooper, the clinical primary investigator for the study.
Case Western is a pioneer in DNA testing for colon cancer. The team of researchers discovered a specific DNA change that takes place in colorectal cancers. They then created techniques for detecting the DNA change when it was expelled from the body in feces. That research led to the first FDA-approved stool-DNA home-screening test last year.
Few African Americans will ever get the chance to visit China—a country that’s modernizing at a dynamic pace and becoming a global center for technology and commerce. So Kamari Wright and Rachel John Kazungu jumped on an opportunity.
Wright, a computer science and engineering student at Ohio State University, said that he envisioned small cities with traditionally designed buildings. But he was surprised by what he saw. “They have large, modern cities,” said Wright, who returned home with new ideas about designing contemporary, high-tech buildings.
Wright and Kazungu were part of a group of 19 students in the program’s 2014 delegation. They recalled encountering Chinese people who were curious about them.
“They were curious about our skin color and hair—but in a good way. They approached us with open minds and wanted to take pictures with us,” Wright said. “I felt a sense of pride as an African American there, like I was valued—not the hostility that we often experience here in America.”
Kazungu, a finance major at Alabama State University, explained, “They looked at us as being black in a different way [than we’re viewed in America]. They wanted to take pictures with us and connect. I was like, ‘Wow, this doesn’t happen in America.’”
In addition to touring cultural sites, like the Great Wall of China, and interacting with people, the program also focuses on career growth.
“This was one of the main reasons I applied,” said Kazungu, who’s pursuing a career in international business and hopes to work one day for the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. So she went to China with lots of questions about how the country was able to develop so rapidly.
Through the program’s educational component, Kazungu learned about the Chinese approach to business negotiations. And Wright attended lectures about energy efficiency and visited one of China’s leading energy companies.
The CBCF is now accepting applicationsthrough April 30 for this summer’s China study program. STEM students (those studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics) would travel in late June, while business and trade majors would visit China in early July.
“This is an exciting time for the CBCF as we expand our global initiatives through the China study-abroad program,” said A. Shuanise Washington, president and CEO of the CBCF. “We believe building career and educational opportunities abroad is critical in an era of increasing globalization.”
Indeed, the opportunity to network with potential future Chinese business partners was a benefit Kazungu highlighted. “Globalization now makes the world more like a village,” she said. “There are many white Americans, but few African Americans, abroad. For African Americans to compete globally, we have to travel and network.”
Anthony Hales’ story is much too common. He graduated from Jackson State University, landed account-executive positions with two major regional radio stations and later did public relations work in Washington, D.C. Hales did all the right things but then hit a glass ceiling.
He applied for a job opening at his company. Hales says he had the perfect qualifications for the promotion but was passed over. That was the turning point.
“You get tired of dealing with the issues of being a minority in corporate America,” says the Mississippi native. “I decided to stop stressing and build my own [company].”
Hales, 30, launched his own company last year. He’s now transitioning from his day job to Hales Creative Solutions. His Washington, D.C.-based company provides a range of services, from graphic designing and Web development to business consulting.
Racial discrimination in the job market is real. A 2004 landmark Princeton University study showed that employers preferred to hire white applicants with criminal records to blacks who had never served time.
After freelancing before his launch, Hales started with a small client base that generously recommended his services. He now has a few large corporate clients and the ability to hire three people. “We’re growing and building at a steady rate,” he says.
Still, he faces a number of challenges in getting to the next level. Hales admits to a few “hiccups” along the way and lacking some of the “educational pieces” in his skill set to cement his success.
U.S. Black Chambers Inc. launched its Young Black Male Entrepreneur Institute to nurture businessmen like Hales. USBC is an association of over 115 independent black chambers of commerce and small-business associations nationwide.
USBC launched the pilot program last month in Washington, D.C., with plans to expand nationwide. The institute provides a specialized curriculum, based on the nation’s top business schools, while drawing on the practical experience of businesspeople, who serve as mentors and advisers, explains Howard Jean, who designed the program with his partner, Keith Benjamin.
The program is divided into three phases following recruitment of the participants. Each phase consists of six-week sections that cover topics such as strategic marketing, business-plan development and refinement, and individualized business coaching from seasoned business owners.
Hales is now in the second phase of the program. He’s already benefiting from the institute’s network of mentors. “That’s valuable,” Hales underscores. “It’s valuable to talk to people who have been there.”
USBC sees the urgency in developing the next generation of black businessmen. African Americans have made significant strides in the business sector, but it will soon be time to pass the baton.
Beyond teaching solid business principles, the initiative seeks to change society’s negative perception of black men. It also wants to nurture young black businessmen who will serve their communities, says the program’s co-designer Jean, who, as a 32-year-old entrepreneur, also fits into the category.
“The implications on economic development and workforce development will provide young black males with leverage and influence, which in turn will allow them to serve as business leaders in various sectors,” Jean explains.
Indeed, helping his community is part of Hales’ mission. “We need to build businesses as black men and hire some people. That’s the key to reducing the economic divide,” he says. “I’m fully committed.”
It was easy to mistake Thursday’s gathering at a New York City hotel for a religious meeting. One panelist, who proudly proclaimed his Baptist-preacher lineage, issued the rallying cry in his opening remarks: “God is good all the time.” But the roughly 200 people in attendance had gathered at the National Action Committee’s panel discussion in midtown Manhattan not to hear a sermon but to learn what they could do to save endangered young black men.
We’re familiar with the statistics. In 2013, only 14 percent of black boys demonstrated proficiency on the national fourth-grade reading assessment. The reality is that most of those who lag behind from that early stage will have few good options in life, and their life paths, all too often, will lead to incarceration.
Broderick Johnson, President Barack Obama’s representative at the discussion, part of NAN’s annual convention, was center stage. Johnson, who is Obama’s assistant and White House Cabinet secretary, also chairs the task force for the president’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which launched in February 2014 and seeks to empower young men of color.
Johnson, who coordinates a broad coalition of federal agencies and private-sector partners, said that the president has long been concerned—since his days as a community organizer—about the issues that hinder young men of color.
“In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting, the president felt a sense of need to do something big,” Johnson told The Root. “What also motivated him to launch MBK was his unique position [as president] and ability to bring like-minded people together around his passion for this issue.”
An early benchmark of success, Johnson said, is the positive nationwide response. Nearly 200 cities (including the nation’s largest urban centers) and 17 tribal nations have accepted the MBK Community Challenge.
Last week Philadelphia unveiled what Johnson described as one of the more “extensive” and “impressive” MBK action plans. The private sector has also been a key partner in the president’s initiative. Foundations and corporations contributed nearly $200 million at the launch of MBK.
When asked about the Republicans’ response to MBK, Johnson said that they’ve been largely supportive. He explained that MBK is not “a big new federal program,” so he hasn’t had to do that type of outreach. Most of his interaction with them has been at the state and community levels. He pointed to Indianapolis’ Republican Mayor Greg Ballard as an example. The city launched “a very aggressive MBK program,” Johnson said.
But will these efforts continue after President Obama leaves office? Johnson gave a resounding, “Absolutely.” He said that the private sector is committed to the long-term success of MBK, and a foundation is in place to help coordinate the community effort.
Indeed, Johnson made it clear that MBK will be one of the president’s important legacies. He believes that future generations will say the president used his passion and office to improve the life outcomes for young men of color, who are the most challenged in our society.
“Most of all, people will say President Obama convinced the country, as no other president has done before, that the fate of these young men is linked to the fate and success of this nation,” Johnson said.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) pointed to the GOP’s unreasonable delay in confirming Loretta Lynch to the U.S. attorney general post as yet another indication that race still matters. He told Bloomberg News, “For many minorities, Latinos and African-Americans, it would be just another contemporary sign that we have not moved as far as we had hoped.”
It’s been 137 days since President Barack Obama nominated Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., to replace Attorney General Eric Holder. Most Republican senators agree that she’s well qualified for the position. Yet GOP leaders continue to block her confirmation vote.
Lynch would become the first Black woman to hold the post. Cleaver is the latest in a string of Democrats to suggest that race is at the root of the delay.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) invoked the image of Rosa Parks during the Civil Rights struggle. He said last Wednesday on the Senate floor that Republicans pushed Lynch to “the back of the bus” on the Senate calendar.
He added: “That is unfair. It’s unjust. It is beneath the decorum and dignity of the United States Senate. This woman deserves fairness.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) demanded an apology from Durbin, calling his remarks inappropriate. McCain denied in an a CNN interview that the delay has anything to do with race.
“It has everything to do with trying to get legislation through which would prevent — or help prevent this horrible issue of sexual trafficking that is going on,” he asserted.
Yes. That’s right. Republican leaders are delaying a confirmation vote because Democrats rejected anti-abortion language in a human trafficking bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made that position clear: He plans to keep Lynch’s nomination on hold until the Democrats relent.
Republicans say it’s not about race. But it’s hard to understand their rational for the delay. At first, they opposed Lynch because she expressed support for President Obama’s executive action on immigration. Well, any Obama nominee will support the president’s position–that’s not a good reason to delay a confirmation vote.
Now, they’re delaying her confirmation over a totally unrelated human trafficking measure? That just doesn’t add up.