A lack of diversity has long been considered an issue for Big Tech, and despite attempts for more inclusion within the space, data indicates that progress has been slow.
In 2014, Facebook revealed that just 2 percent of its employees were Black and made a public declaration to establish programs that would drive that number up. But in a report by Statista, the share of Black employees had only risen to 3.9 percent in 2020.
Michael Ellison, CEO and co-founder of CodePath, a non-profit that seeks to improve diversity in technical careers, said part of the issue is that students don't have access to tools they need to truly excel after graduation.
"If you look at college computer science classrooms today — which computer science, as well as internships, are the primary pathway into these lucrative tech jobs — then you'll see that in 2019 there were only 588 career-ready Black computer science graduates," Ellison told Cheddar.
In a growing industry that has "1.4 million-plus engineers," Ellison said a greater effort has to be taken to close the current gap. And the issue isn't just limited to Facebook. Many of the industry's biggest leaders are also struggling to address the problem.
Invest in Students
To remedy this, he suggested that firms make earlier investments into the development of students through coursework as well as "early work opportunities," specifically for students who do not come from wealthy backgrounds and otherwise would have limited access to opportunities in Silicon Valley.
"Most tech companies don't start thinking about diversifying their pipeline until junior/senior year, and at that point, the majority of underrepresented minorities have already dropped out of computer science programs," Ellison noted.
CodePath, according to its CEO, is one of Silicon Valley's elite training organizations, working to level the playing field by creating programs companies can implement to boost confidence in young, curious students to prepare them for success in their fields.
"The thing is, we can't rely on luck in order to scalably dismantle structural racism, in order to create the pathways that at scale will get people the jobs today and for the future," he said.
For Ellison, personal experience and his path to Silicon Valley have been the driving force behind his company's effort to expand Black representation in tech. If companies can get to some of the roots of the issue — establishing earlier relationships with future workers — it can eventually be resolved, according to the CodePath founder.
"CodePath is a lifelong passion project for me to try make sure that we reprogram the system to be one that, instead of failure being default, students are set up to thrive by default," he stated.