Tech Diversity and the Digital Divide

Today many companies are making strong efforts to address the issue of lack of diversity in the tech sector.  It has been the elephant in the room for a long time, but despite any efforts to increase diversity the problem still remains on a whole. I believe it’s time to look at the potential root cause of this gap and how we can help solve the issue in years to come.  There are barriers that exist early on in society that can result in the lack of opportunity coupled with less ability to compete once entering the job tech job arena.  In order to truly address the problem, we must address the root cause and symptoms.

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When I started my freshman year at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign they had a summer program called The Summer Bridge program.  Students that were identified as “at risk” from the university’s perspective were required to attend this program.  The goal was to introduce students to the college environment and give them a taste of what the workload would be like before starting their first semester.   In theory, this would help students chances at becoming successful at the university and complete their education, but quite honestly it may be too little too late.

Let’s talk about the phenomenon known as The Digital Divide.  Though it may sound like a popular Electronic Music DJ duo, it is actually even more sinister.  The Digital Divide describes the gap that exists for older, less affluent, or rural populations to access to broadband Internet and in some cases regular access to a computer at all.  Specifically, these barriers can greatly alter the direction of a child’s life when entering the education system students start far behind their counterparts who had easy access to fast broadband and computers.

In an effort to resolve these conditions, there are organizations focused on closing the gap for these underserved communities.  In Chicago, the Digital Youth Network has created the IRemix Social Learning Network for students in formal and informal settings; Co-founded YouMedia along with the Chicago Public Library – to develop innovative spaces for youth; and implemented Chicago City of Learning– with Chicago’s Mayor’s Office – to join together learning opportunities for youth.   These efforts directly address the early childhood barriers that can prevent students excelling in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) classes.  Once these students enter adulthood they will have greater odds of being successful and competitive in the STEM workforce.

As corporate citizens, I don’t believe we can say we care about equality without putting some effort towards closing this gap.  Partnering with local organizations and early educational institutions who serve these underprivileged communities would allow companies to have visibility on the ground floor.  Adding perspective for these students on what it takes to be successful and what companies are looking for even at an early age is a major key to success.   Each of us has a responsibility to do our part.

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