Media Impact Forum 2015: Unlocking Opportunity in Diverse Communities

The Media Impact Forum kicked off its symposium with a moving presentation by CNN Commentator and former Obama Administration official Van Jones, who laid out a vision for greater inclusion in the technology industry, focusing on the #YesWeCode initiative run by his organization, Dream Corps, with support from The Atlantic Philanthropies.


The Washington Post: Silicon Valley struggles to hack its diversity problem

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Yahoo disclosed last week that African Americans made up just 2 percent of its workers, while Hispanics stood at 4 percent. Those revelations came days after Facebook reported that in 2014 it had employed just 81 blacks among its 5,500 U.S. workers.

Silicon Valley has a diversity problem, a contentious issue that has come into sharper focus in recent months as tech firms have sheepishly released updates on their hiring of minorities. The companies have pledged to do better. Many point to the talent pipeline as one of the main culprits. They’d hire if they could, but not enough black and Hispanic students are pursuing computer science degrees, they say.

But fresh data show that top schools are turning out black and Hispanic graduates with tech degrees at rates significantly higher than they are being hired by leading tech firms.

Last year, black students took home 4.1 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in computer science, information technology and computer engineering, according to an annual survey by the Computing Research Association of 121 top U.S. and Canadian colleges. That’s double the average of blacks hired at the biggest tech firms. Hispanics accounted for 7.7 percent of the degrees.

“It would be a more convincing argument if their numbers more closely tracked what we were producing,” said Stuart Zweben, an Ohio State computer science professor who helps conduct the survey. And Silicon Valley’s diversity problem exists not just on the tech side.

Tech’s largest firms also significantly lag in their hiring of minorities for sales, marketing and public relations jobs.

At Google, blacks and Hispanics each accounted for just 4 percent of Google’s non- technical workforce last year. At Facebook, blacks made up 3 percent of its non-tech workforce in May, while Hispanics were at 7 percent.

In the overall U.S. workforce, blacks made up 13 percent of employees and Hispanics were at 16 percent.

The lack of minorities in Silicon Valley has been met by a rising sense of urgency. Firms began disclosing their diversity data last year under pressure from groups such as Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition. And those numbers have underscored the extent of the problem in this tech hotbed, where former start-ups have matured into some of the nation’s leading economic engines. Further doubts about workplace equality in Silicon Valley were stoked this year by the high-profile trial involving former Reddit chief executive Ellen Pao, who lost her sex discrimination case against storied venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Jackson rebutted claims by companies that there simply isn’t a robust talent pool of blacks and Latinos. He for years attended shareholder meetings for Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google and demanded that the companies release data on their workforces.

“They aren’t looking in the right places,” Jackson said in an interview. “And this doesn’t answer the question of why the vast majority of their workforce — which is non-tech — is also lacking diversity.”

Challenging issue

For a tech sector accustomed to hacking its way out of problems, making its workforce more diverse has emerged as a major challenge. And the industry has only recently admitted its shortcomings. Until last year, Google, Apple and Facebook, among others, declined to disclose data on workforce diversity. Some firms — such as Oracle, which has 122,000 workers worldwide and declined to respond to a request for comment for this article — still haven’t. Yahoo also declined to comment.

In tech’s data-driven world, the numbers were bruising. For example, Facebook’s data showed that it added only seven black employees from 2012 to 2013, before hiring 36 between 2013 and 2014.

“We know we have work to do,” said Ime Archibong, a Yale grad who is black and works at Facebook as its strategic partnerships director. “We know that.”

Others said it will take time for efforts to reflect in their employment data.

“The pipeline is just a piece of it. Our main issue is that any meaningful change for a company our size takes time,” said Roya Soleimani, a spokeswoman at Google.

Facebook’s challenge is that it is looking for a very specific group of computer science graduates, for instance, people who understand data systems and algorithms, said Maxine Williams, the global head of diversity at Facebook.

“We are trying desperately to have a more diverse workforce and deal with the constraints on the pipeline,” Williams said.

But some in the tech world believe the focus on the pipeline overshadows the wealth of qualified minority candidates already out there.

“It’s not even remotely a pipeline issue,” said Andrea Hoffman, who runs Culture Shift Labs, which helps companies find minority and female talent. Her company recently hosted a brunch in Palo Alto, Calif., for minority job-seekers in tech and finance. The 200 seats were snapped up, and she had to make a waiting list for 200 more.

“For anybody to tell me the talent isn’t out there,” she said, “I know emphatically that’s not true.”

Asians are the exception. They have been hired at rates far above other minority groups and even above their representation in the overall U.S. workforce. At Facebook, for example, 41 percent of the tech workforce is Asian.

The strong recruitment of Asians is attributed to the hiring of skilled immigrants, particularly from China and India, and high U.S. graduate rates of Asians in computer science programs. Asians have also established tight-knit networking organizations such as The Indus Entrepreneurs, or TIE, a business networking group that began in 1992 in Silicon Valley and now has
13,000 members around the world.

Tackling bias

Big tech companies, aside from their concerns about the pipeline, also point to a tangle of challenges, including unconscious biases that have given preference to white men. That bias shows up in recruiting, with companies drawing from the same top universities, where black and Hispanic graduates are still lagging behind other groups.

“Once you have a Latina Marissa Mayer and a black Mark Zuckerberg, a lot of these problems will go away,” said Van Jones, one of the founders of Yes We Code, a group that aims to teach 100,000 low-income people to write computer code. “The pipeline isn’t big enough, and the uptake isn’t aggressive enough.”

The problem is particularly acute at start-ups, where black founders are just 1 percent of venture-invested firms, according to a 2011 survey by CB Insights. Venture capital firms — mostly led by white men — have admitted that they are often introduced to start-ups from their own business contacts — also largely white men. And then the big firms acquire these start-ups or hire from them in a self-perpetuating pattern.

More comprehensive data on the number of black and Latino partners at venture firms isn’t yet available, said Kate Mitchell, a partner at Scale Venture Partners and the head of a diversity task force for the National Venture Capital Association trade group.

“I think it says something that we don’t even have the numbers,” Mitchell said. “How do we even know it’s a problem if we don’t have the numbers to show it exists?”

There is a rich body of research that shows how big companies used specific plans to increase diversity. A 2015 study by the McKinsey consulting firm showed that companies with more diversity in leadership were 35 percent more likely to report financial returns above their national industry median.

The issue of diversity “hasn’t moved into the top priorities so that it is something the CEOs are talking about constantly,” said Megan Smith, the national chief technology officer, who was appointed by President Obama to lead tech policy. “That is something the research shows works; that if your leadership team is constantly talking about it and iterating on it just like they would on products and businesses, that will move the needle.”

In 2000, Coca-Cola settled a $192.5 million racial discrimination lawsuit brought by black employees who accused the company of race-based pay discrimination. Throughout the 18-month court battle, the company’s reputation suffered as the case drew international attention.

As a result, the company rewrote its employment policies and doubled the number of minorities in management positions. Today, African American staff make up 21 percent of the company, while Hispanics are at 18 percent.

Surge in programs

In the past year, the biggest tech firms have announced a slew of programs aimed at increasing diversity in their ranks.

Facebook expanded its summer internship program for minority computer science majors and started a new internship for minority business majors. Facebook also implemented a rule that requires recruiters to interview minority candidates.

Google, Facebook and Apple expanded the number of colleges for recruiting. Google said it found that 35 percent of black computer science graduates were coming from historically black colleges. So two years ago, it began to embed engineers at those schools to teach and mentor students into careers at the company.

Intel has been particularly aggressive. Earlier this year, the chipmaker pledged that its workforce would reflect the broader U.S. labor pool by 2020, and it created a $300 million venture fund designated for minority-led start-ups.

Christopher Hocutt is one of those who have benefited from the efforts. The Howard University student, who is black, struggled to get a summer internship in Silicon Valley, even with solid grades and after serving as president of the school’s Association for Computing Machinery.

During his junior year, Google began its guest teaching program and sent an engineer to Howard. The Google employee became a mentor to Hocutt, teaching the Richmond, Va., native what to expect in a summer internship interview and making important introductions to recruiters.

“I didn’t even know where to start, and I didn’t know how important it was to know how the process worked,” said Hocutt, who got the summer internship.

This summer, Google hired 30 college students from the historically black colleges for summer internships. Hocutt graduated from Howard in June and began as the first full-time hire from the search-engine giant’s program.

Read original story at The Washington Post.


Innovating the Future at #EssenceFest 2015!

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EPIC is the only way I can describe last week’s historic 10-Day Road to #YesWeCode Bus Tour and Hackathon.

More than 80 students took a road trip with #YesWeCode and Estella’s Brilliant Bus across seven cities before arriving at Essence Festival in New Orleans.

At the TECHJXN Innovation Summit and Hackathon kick off in Jackson, Mississippi, students designed mobile app concepts designed to improve their communities. The top teams pitched their app ideas on the main stage at Essence Festival in front of a panel of judges. One of our celebrity guest judges was singer India Arie

CONGRATS to the grand prize winning team who pitched G.E.C.C. This app crowdsources and reports on local infrastructure issues, such as potholes, so government officials can better address them. In addition to taking home brand new tablet devices, the winners will also receive six months of professional mentorship from a tech firm in New Orleans.

Thank you to our incredible sponsors, partners, supporters, volunteers and students for showing the world, "YES WE CODE." 

Check out our digital recap and relive the magic >>

- Van

 


MSNBC’s Touré Hopes to Connect Kids in Oakland to Jobs in Silicon Valley

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MSNBC’s Touré took his afternoon show The Cycle to Oakland for a one-hour live special aimed at connecting young African-American men with the training they need to succeed in high-tech careers. “I love Oakland, it’s a great town,” Touré told TVNewser.

The effort, sponsored by Ford Motor Company, was launched last year and MSNBC hosted another special, Growing Hope Live from Detroit with Joy Reidin March. “It’s extremely important to help steer young people into technology where there’s lots of jobs and opportunity,” said Touré, noting that Oakland presents a unique challenge for young people who live there. “They live so close to Silicon Valley and yet are so far from it unless they get a helping hand. #YesWeCode is trying to make that important bridge.”

A Growing Hope Special: The Cycle Live from Oakland aired Friday, June 19 at 3 p.m. ET. The event served as the kick-off for #YesWeCode and the Hidden Genius Project’s Summer of Innovation Program.

Click to check out the event gallery here.


CNN: Mental illness is no crime

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By Van Jones and Newt Gingrich

(CNN) Before Paton Blough got his bipolar disorder under control, it nearly cost him everything.

The Greenville, South Carolina, resident was arrested six times in three years, each for an episode related to his illness. Instead of receiving treatment, he was thrown in jail. In the rough prison environment and without proper treatment, he ended up with two felony convictions for crimes committed while incarcerated.

Blough managed to find a path to treatment. That makes him one of the lucky ones. Today, mentally ill Americans are disproportionately more likely to be arrested, incarcerated, suffer solitary confinement or rape in prison and commit another crime once released.

Quick: Name the largest provider of mental health care in America. If you guessed "our prisons and jails," you would be right.

A 2006 U.S. Department of Justice study found that three out of four female inmates in state prisons, 64% of all people in jail, 56% of all state prison inmates and 45% of people in federal prison have symptoms or a history of mental disorder.

America's approach when the mentally ill commit nonviolent crimes -- locking them up without addressing the problem -- is a solution straight out of the 1800s.

When governments closed state-run psychiatric facilities in the late 1970s, it didn't replace them with community care, and by default, the mentally ill often ended up in jails. There are roughly as many people in Anchorage, Alaska, or Trenton, New Jersey, as there are inmates with severe mental illness in American prisons and jails, according to one 2012 estimate. The estimated number of inmates with mental illness outstrips the number of patients in state psychiatric hospitals by a factor of 10.

Today, in 44 states and the District of Columbia, the largest prison or jail holds more people with serious mental illness than the largest psychiatric hospital. With2 million people with mental illness booked into jails each year, it is not surprising that the biggest mental health providers in the country are LA County Jail, Rikers Island in New York and Cook County Jail in Chicago.

Our system is unfair to those struggling with mental illness.

Cycling them through the criminal justice system, we miss opportunities to link them to treatment that could lead to drastic improvements in their quality of life and our public safety. These people are sick, not bad, and they can be diverted to mental health programs that cost less and are more effective than jail time. People who've committed nonviolent crimes can often set themselves on a better path if they are provided with proper treatment.

The current situation is also unfair to law enforcement officers and to the people running our prisons, who are now forced to act as doctors or face tense confrontations with the mentally ill while weighing the risk to public safety. In fact, at a time when police shootings are generating mass controversy, there is far too little discussion of the fact that when police use force, it often involves someone with a mental illness.

Finally, the current approach is unfair to taxpayers, because there are far more cost-effective ways for a decent society to provide care to the mentally ill. Just look at Ohio, where the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is projected to spend $49 million this year on medications and mental health care, on top of nearly $23,000 per inmate per year.

Paton Blough is proof that there is a better way. After eventually getting the treatment he needed, he is out of jail and now helps teach law enforcement officers effective ways to intervene with people with mental health needs.

His focus is just one of a surprising number of proven, effective solutions with broad support. Both advocates for the mentally ill and the law enforcement community have lined up in support of increased training for officers. The psychiatric community as well as those focused on reducing crime can all agree on expanding mental health courts, crisis intervention teams, and veterans' courts.

A new initiative, "Stepping Up," unites state and local governments and the American Psychiatric Foundation to promote research-based practices to tackle our overreliance on jail as mental health treatment, such as in-jail counseling programs that reduce the chances of repeat offenders.

State and local officials have shown us the way.

We've seen large communities such as Miami-Dade County, Florida, completely redesign their systems at every level, training police officers in crisis intervention, instituting careful assessments of new jail admissions and redirecting their mentally ill populations into treatment, effectively reducing the rates of re-arrest.

We've seen smaller rural counties faced with tight budgets collaborate with neighboring communities to pool their limited resources to pay for new programs and properly track progress to promote accountability.

Perhaps most surprisingly in these partisan times, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are standing shoulder-to-shoulder to support mental health reform. The bipartisan Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the Senate, passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.

The legislation includes simple measures that would fund alternatives to jail and prison admissions for those in need of treatment and expand training programs for law enforcement personnel on how to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis.

The notion of bipartisan, comprehensive criminal justice reform is not just idle talk. It is happening.

Both sides see practical alternatives to incarceration that can reduce prison populations, improve public safety, save lives and save money. If Congress moves swiftly to pass the great ideas now percolating in the House and Senate, it will become a reality.

Take it from a conservative and a liberal: A good place to start is by addressing the needs of our mentally ill citizens in jails and prisons.

Click to original full article here.



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