Silicon Valley Companies Come Together to Support Women of Color in Tech

by Laura Wise
Apr 30, 2019 12:30 PM ET
Article

This article series is sponsored by Silicon Valley Community Foundation and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

The tech industry has a diversity problem. Women, specifically women of color, are greatly underrepresented. But some Silicon Valley leaders are working hard to make a change. Adobe, for example, has demonstrated its belief in the power of investing in women for years. Symantec likewise has a track record of supporting women and girls of color over time. 

TriplePundit recently sat down with Katie Juran, senior director of Adobe’s diversity and inclusion team, as well as Jamie Barclay and Susan Cooney of Symantec’s corporate responsibility team, to discuss each company’s strategy for investing in and supporting women—and how specifically they are helping to develop female tech talent today and into the future. 

Both companies are part of the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition (RRTC), a partnership among about a dozen leading technology companies in Silicon Valley and beyond. The coalition is committed to changing this narrative by doubling the number of black, Latina and Native American women graduating with computing degrees by 2025. 

The RRTC initiative launched in September 2018, accompanied by a report with the same name. Co-authored by McKinsey & Co. and Pivotal Ventures, the report shines a light on how the technology sector can use philanthropy and corporate responsibility programming to close the gender gap in tech. The report not only highlights critical facts and statistics, but also presents best practices for companies looking to use philanthropic dollars to attract more women of color. 

The time is right for these recommendations, because the RRTC report indicates that the gap may even be widening: The share of black, Latina and Native American women receiving computing degrees has dropped by a third over the past decade, from 6 percent to 4 percent, the report revealed. Philanthropist Melinda Gates, a champion for women and diversity—and founder of the investment firm Pivotal Ventures, a founding partner of the coalition—believes that the next Bill Gates won’t look like the last one. As the racial and ethnic demographics of the United States quickly change, Gates is putting resources into ensuring that women of color have the opportunities and access that they deserve.

Investing in women of color in practice 

The report recommends eight best practices that tech companies can use today to create a space for women of color right now, and for the workplace of the future. Let’s take a look at some of these best practices in action through the lens of RRTC members Adobe and Symantec.

1. Foster interest in computing careers

As the technology sector grows, so does the need for tech talent. According to the report, demand for advanced IT and programming skills will grow by as much as 90 percent over the next 15 years. “This creates a problem for the software industry and the technology industry overall,” said Juran of Adobe. “If you don't have young people majoring in careers that you would then be hiring for, who is there to develop your product?” 

Creating a pipeline for the next generation of women of color is key to ensuring a seat at the table. To create such a pipeline, each organization in the RRTC has partnered with a nonprofit in the tech industry. Adobe, for example, partnered with Girls Who Code to host a seven-week summer immersion program.

Juran shares more: “[High school girls] spend their summer at Adobe learning how to code, and they are also paired with female mentors who are already in technology careers here. The instructors at our summer immersion programs are Adobe employees, which provides a unique experience not offered at other companies. What it does, we hope, is expose the girls to the fact that this is a female-friendly place to work—that tech is a career where they can succeed, because they are seeing role models succeeding in tech.”

Likewise, Symantec is deepening its longstanding partnership with Code.org. The Reboot Representation report found that less than 0.1 percent of tech companies’ grants focus on women of color specifically ($335,000 in 2017 across the 32 companies studied in the report). Symantec is working to evolve its philanthropic partnerships and initiatives to help the company build a more inclusive workforce and specifically engage women of color in tech.

For example, the relationship between Symantec and Code.org began with a general grant during the company’s philanthropy cycle—and it grew into the development of Code.org’s CS Discoveries course.

Cecily Joseph, former VP of corporate social responsibility for Symantec, explains in more detail in a recent post on the company’s blog: “In this course, 6th- to 10th-grade students learn about programming, Web development and data, as well as CS Principles, a rigorous, yearlong course covering the internet, big data, privacy and programming. In the 2017-2018 school year alone, more than 36,500 female students of color participated in CS Discoveries, and an additional 19,000 participated in CS Principles.”

2. Offer on-ramps for beginners

While pipeline programs are critical, they don’t yield immediate benefits for companies looking to hire diverse talent. Joseph details how Symantec's long-standing relationship with Net Impact, a nonprofit focused on students and young professionals, helps the company build up the next generation of talent. The relationship began with a general grant to help the organization equip young leaders to thrive at the forefront of social change efforts. That initial effort has since grown into a pipeline-like program for a certain group of college students. 

“Our partnership morphed over time to focus on racial equity, and our support helped establish undergraduate chapters at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs),” Joseph said. “Bennett College, one of only two all-women HBCUs, now has a Net Impact chapter because of grants from Symantec. We've also supported the creation of the Racial Equity Awareness Leadership (REAL) Program, a scalable effort with the goal to institutionalize racial equity at colleges and universities through training and curriculum.”

Additionally, as the country is in the midst of a technological revolution, there is a huge opportunity to reimagine the future of work and how we train people to fill vacant roles. Adobe has taken this challenge on through its Adobe Digital Academy program. The Adobe Digital Academy awards promising candidates with scholarships to attend an intensive three-month Web development boot camp. Each scholarship includes tuition, as well as a living stipend, so students don’t have to hold down another job while attending the boot camp.

Juran sheds some light on what happens after the program: “If they do well and if they like it, then we place them in an internship for another three to four months. During that internship, they are given three mentors: a technical mentor, a mentor who has already successfully come through the program, and a mentor from one of our employee networks [Adobe’s version of an employee resource group] that’s tied to their identity.”

If the internship goes well, Adobe hires the candidate full time. 

3. Build her confidence in her abilities

Once women of color become part of the tech workforce, retention is the next important factor. Companies should ask themselves: Do women of color feel welcome? Do they feel they have allies? Do they see opportunities to grow? 

Adobe implemented its Leadership Circles program to answer some of these questions. “Leadership Circles consist of a cohort of women who go through a 10-month development program,” Juran explained. “They are given a really high degree of focus and investment during that period.” 

Participants receive an executive coach and are trained in various skills in the leadership domain. “At the end of that 10 months, they graduate, and the hope is—and the early data shows—that they are being promoted at a higher rate and they are being retained and engaged at a higher rate,” Juran said. Although the program is open to all women, women of color certainly have the opportunity to benefit here.

Symantec is also hard at work to ensure the company retains and nurtures women of color. Susan Cooney of the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion team shares more: “Symantec has launched several women’s sponsorship programs reaffirming our commitment to career growth, leadership skill development and access to opportunity. From leader success modules to sponsorship programs and investments in our Symantec Women’s Action Network, Symantec offers a host of resources and guidance to support women professionals. We work with business leaders in developing inclusive leadership capabilities that include direct sponsorship of women. It’s important to learn how building teams with more diverse perspectives drive better outcomes.”

The bottom line

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The RRTC is an important commitment from one of our fastest-growing industries that has the ability to go far. This collaboration signals that some of the nation’s tech giants are beginning to think more deeply about inclusion. The partnership model of the RRTC gives companies the opportunity to share best practices and resources, helping members to implement strategies that have been road-tested for impact. 

As the tech industry continues to grow and dominate economic and political conversations, hopefully, it’s only a matter of time before investing in women of color becomes part of a tech company's DNA, versus a special strategy.

Image credits: Thought Catalog, Savs