Voices of Change — Shaping an Inclusive Environment in STEM

| Damon Cox, Director of Economic Development at the Boston Foundation

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. They can be determining factors in whether or not talented people come to work for us, and whether people buy our products. Through our investment in diverse partnerships on a broad range of opportunities, we continue to work to increase the pipeline of diverse talent, increase retention and match talent to job opportunities that are vital to our success in the future.This month, we are honored to feature the voices of local leaders who represent our commitment to diversity and use their drive to help the community in which they serve.

— Microsoft New England Staff

Damon Cox

Much has been written about technology being a great equalizing force. Today we have instant access to information at the push of a button or the swipe of a screen and more computing power in our pockets or handbags in the form of a smartphone than all of NASA had during the Moon Landing in 1969. Technology can give voice to the voiceless through blogs, vlogs and hashtags. It can also sell the world more products ultimately destined for a landfill. Technology is everywhere, and we all use it. But the stark reality is that we don’t all have access to it or a hand in creating it.

Lack of access to technology and a dearth of opportunities for women and under-represented minorities in the tech space has largely been the motivation for the work I am doing at The Boston Foundation (TBF). As New England’s largest and oldest (100 years) community foundation and the second oldest in the nation, TBF has traditionally viewed job creation as the panacea for the economic woes of the communities that we serve. To escape the morass of tepid economic development, we’re looking beyond job creation alone and looking towards building an entrepreneurial ecosystem and developing vibrant STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) education pipelines as important components of a robust economic mobility strategy.

Making sure Black and Latino youth have access to STEM and STEAM opportunities is vital to individuals, families and communities. The average STEM salary is $86,000 dollars, while the average non-STEM salary is $47,000. Well-paying jobs in STEM could go a long way towards closing the ever-widening wealth and income inequality gaps we have been experiencing.

Unfortunately, the actual numbers of minority youth obtaining advanced STEM degrees and jobs are disheartening, to say the least. Black and Latino participation in STEM is stagnant or falling in many regions. Code.org estimates that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computing jobs but only 400,000 qualified candidates to fill them. And sadly, we’re not preparing our own young people to fill these jobs.

At the risk of sounding nationalist, I would like to see the same impassioned championing of STEM programs that we see coming from the H1B visa advocates. We have millions of young people that masterfully utilize technology but don’t feel as though they could create it. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are icons of innovation and wealth throughout the world, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t be looking in American inner cities to find the next tech innovators to carry the torch.

It all boils down to the fact that WE MUST DO BETTER! It is incumbent upon all of us to help shape a more inclusive environment for young kids of color, specifically Blacks and Latinos, into STEM/STEAM education programs or coding camps. This is not a black problem or a white problem; it’s an American problem. Federal, state and local government have important roles to play on the policy level, and corporations and non-profits have obligations to target the problem on the programmatic level. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and as a nation, we must remain vigilant and strong to remain the leaders in technology innovation, using our vast human capital in its many shapes, sizes and colors.

Damon Cox is the Director of Economic Development at the Boston Foundation. He joined the foundation in 2013 with the responsibility of overseeing the foundation’s portfolio of workforce and economic development investments. Damon brings an extensive background in enhancing opportunities for entrepreneurs, most recently as the Director and Program Designer for the Boston Small Business Contest, a prize competition designed to create and support business development opportunities for residents in Boston’s Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods.  Previous to that he was Director for Capital and Evaluation for Boston Rising. In that role, Damon devised and managed Boston Rising’s entrepreneurship development initiative, which provided capital and technical assistance to a network of burgeoning business owners in Boston neighborhoods. Damon has over a decade of experience in marketing and communications in the media industry with extensive strategic consulting experience to nonprofit organizations.

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