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
I’m going to start with the story of why. Why is the issue of equitable access to technology so important, for me, as an African American Executive Director of a technology organization?
I had the opportunity to go to a Metco school. It’s pretty much where kids from the inner city are allowed to go to school in the suburbs. When I was in the first or second grade, I had my first experience with technology, which was amazing. We had this computer that went to every classroom, different days of the week, and my first experience was with the Oregon Trail. So I got into coding. It was just mind blowing to me that then, when I would come home to the inner city, kids didn’t have that access.
I was so amazed: “Why don’t they have this opportunity? Why isn’t the playing field leveled?” That’s when I first got in my mind: this has to change. The old attitude that it takes a village is so extremely important to me.
What we have missed in the minority community is simple: opportunity. We are not given the opportunity to succeed. That needs to happen; it’s just so important. At no other time in history ever has a minority population been the largest population in public school systems, and if we don’t change that, then we are looking at the destruction of our economy over the next few years, and that just can’t happen. It is so very important that we get this right. I am going to be very committed to doing so.
The Timothy Smith Network provides that opportunity — and not only through the deployment of technology, but through the deployment of the services and the programs to leverage technology within the community.
Since 1996, we have been able to deploy more than 12 million dollars worth of technology into the Greater Roxbury community. Today we have 29 different technology centers, and all of these centers run differently, but they are all focused on leveraging and infusing that technology into service models. It’s not the technology alone that will make a difference; what will make a difference is the instructional design around how we blend the technology into a service offering. For example, the Timothy Smith Centers are located inside agencies that address a broad range of economic, therapeutic, health, educational, training, human and social services needs of the community. That’s what we provide — the knowledge, equipment and design to help individuals be able to serve the community more effectively.
This moment in time is my civil rights movement. This is my opportunity to put my stake in the ground and say: enough. It should never have gotten to the point where we are still having the conversation about equitable access to technology and STEM education. Everything about our lives has changed: The way we eat, the way we travel, the way medicine is given, the way we receive information. But the way we teach in our inner cities and school systems has remained the same — it is the desk, the book, the teacher standing up front. We need to be very laser focused, as innovators, in how we infuse technology and the opportunities it can provide.
Being able to provide STEM education will allow people in the African American and minority communities across the board, the opportunity to become a part of what’s happening — to be a part of the conversation, not to be overlooked.
What happens a lot is people have these great intentions and ideas of how to be able to assist the African American community to get ahead; but what doesn’t happen a lot is the intentional conversation with that community. Just to ask, “Where are you?” “What are your needs?” “What’s important to you?” I think we, a lot of institutions, miss that vote.
So what could be done in the future? I think at the end of the day it’s allowing the African American community not to be talked to, but to be listened to. To be a part of the conversation. The opportunity that STEM education provides the black community is no different than what it would provide for any other community. It’s the opportunity to be a part of the economic and social nature of America.
Milton Irving is the Executive Director of the Timothy Smith Network. The Timothy Smith Network (TSN) is a member organization established to build the capacity of Greater Roxbury’s Timothy Smith Centers. The mission of the TSN is to increase the capacity of the Greater Roxbury community of Boston to effectively use and access technology by providing technology-related services, educational programs, and resources as well as strengthening and supporting the individual Timothy Smith Centers.