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 York Staff
The technology world is no old boys’ club. It’s supposedly a meritocracy. Can you build the thing? Can you see the future?
Or so they say.
So why is it that the STEM fields are so empty of people of color? The answer is a lack of access, narrow hiring profiles related to “culture fit,” and a host of iniquities that start with slavery.
Today, African-Americans and Latinos comprise less than 1% of startup founding teams; the percentages of people of color graduating with degrees in STEM, similarly, are in the single digits.
This disparity matters, obviously, because technology is a critical sector—the critical sector—for job growth, wealth creation, and social impact. The technology sector will drive the 21stcentury economy, and we know that the low end of income inequality in America is dramatically overrepresented by people of color. The average net worth of a black household is $11,000. For a white household, it’s nearly $142,000. If these kinds of numbers in tech persist—1 percent of startup founders, 4 percent of PhD’s—that inequality will only continue to grow and grow.
And it matters much beyond the stark economic gaps. We know that technology’s reach defines much of how we live our daily lives, from how we wake up for work (Bing! Says your phone at 6:30 am) to how we plan our days (Bing! says your calendar app).
Given the hoopla about startup unicorns and exits and 25-year-old millionaires it feels like what’s important about tech is the money to be made. But what is most important is that technology and the STEM fields will define the future: how will we organize challenges to systems of oppression? How will we find safe and clean power for the planet? What software will enable all eligible Americans to vote and elect our future President?
Technology is the way we create the world we live in. It should be obvious to everyone that the more voices get heard in achieving a consensus of what the world should look like, the better.
So how do more people of color come to merit a spot in the making of the future? (Or merit a job?) All the diversity programs in the world can’t do it alone, as valuable and right-thinking as they are. One piece—the piece we work on—is to make sure people have both the tools they need to succeed and the tools they need to be put in a position to seek success. The nonprofit organization I founded, All Star Code, provides skills for and access to the tech world to high school boys of color. (There are several fantastic other programs dedicated to girls.) All Star Code offers a free six-week not-for-profit summer experiential education program that teaches programming and entrepreneurial soft skills, as well as year-round introductory workshops. Graduates receive ongoing advising on what to study, internships to pursue, work experience placements and regular annual gatherings.
So much of what the world looks like has been created by a small subsection of humanity: white, male, European. They’ve made some pretty great things. I like email, Xboxes, and penicillin. But I get thrilled just imagining what the world looks like when we all join together and make something. When everybody’s allowed in the future-making business. Why wait?
Christina Lewis Halpern is a social entrepreneur and award-winning journalist who is the Founder and Executive Director of All Star Code, a unique, fast-growing non-profit education organization that equips youth with the skills, networks and knowhow to succeed in the tech sector, thus closing the wealth gap and boosting American innovation. Her work has been featured in many major media including PBS, Fast Company, Fortune and Black Enterprise.
Christina is a White House 2014 Champion of Change for STEM Access, a 2014 Echoing Green Black Male Achievement Fellowship Finalist, a 2015 Bluhm/Helfand Social Innovation Fellow Finalist, an Observer top 20 young philanthropist, a Jet Magazine top 40 under 40 and one of The Root’s “17 women in STEM” you should know, among other honors.
A sought-after speaker on philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, tech diversity and personal transformation, Christina has spoken at NY Ideas, Harvard Law School, The Atlantic Forum in Education, the Wealth and Giving Forum, and The Black Enterprise Entrepreneurship Forum, among other places. An award-winning journalist and noted writer, Christina is the author of “Lonely At The Top,” a 2012 best-selling Kindle Single memoir about her father, Reginald F. Lewis, the first African-American to build a billion-dollar business.
Christina is a member of the board of the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, a member of the Advisory Board for the Children’s Museum of the East End and Chair of the Class of 2002 Associates Committee for Harvard College. She is also a quiet angel investor in tech startups and an informal advisory to other female entrepreneurs.
Prior to founding All Star Code, Christina worked for five years as a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal. Her writing has been published in the New York Times Magazine. She began her career as a crime reporter in Stamford, Conn. She lives in New York City with her husband, son, daughter and dog.