By Julie Elberfeld, Senior Vice President of Shared Technology and Executive Sponsor of Diversity and Inclusion for Technology at Capital One
2040 is the beginning of the decade when the United States will become majority Black and Latinx. Long marginalized in all aspects of society, minority groups will soon become the majority of the population, but one big question remains: Will our workplaces finally reflect our country’s changing demographics?
The technology industry’s lack of representation of diverse talent, compounded by real cultural challenges and some perceived challenges regarding who “belongs” there, demonstrates that if we continue along our current path, workplaces will not be representative in 2040. Building a truly diverse technology workforce is not just a cultural imperative, but a societal necessity that is ultimately good for business.
However, we must not rely 100 percent on company culture to foster diversity from the top down, but instead ask ourselves how we, as individuals, can effect change from the ground up. Everyone must do their part to advance equal representation for all in the tech industry. The technologies of tomorrow—mobile, AI, automation, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR)—will transform how we work, live, and interact with one another. To ensure that these technologies are mitigating unintended bias, including all viewpoints, and serving all communities, the technologists who create them must reflect the diversity of our society. Today, sadly, that is not the case.
“We are in a unique moment in time. As Black and Latinx people become the majority and tech shapes how we interact with money, information, and each other, racial equity in tech is not just about access to jobs but about access to power. Being shut out of tech means being shut out of the new rules of power, which has negative consequences on Black and Latinx people, tech, and the country,” said Karla Monterroso, CEO, Code 2040.
While progress has been made by Black and Latinx workers in the tech industry, they are still underrepresented. For example, only 15 percent of the U.S. tech sector is Black or Latinx, although they make up 28 percent of the same demographic in the overall U.S. private sector workforce, according to data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). There is still work to be done to reach equal representation. So where can we begin?
Champion Equal Opportunity for All Technologists
Fostering inclusion in the tech industry starts with diversifying the pipeline that feeds the technology workforce, by encouraging girls and boys of color to consider a computer science education—but it does not end there. Once more people of color undertake computer science educations and enter subsequent careers, those of us who work alongside them must be their champions and take decisive action to encourage them to stay in the field. Underrepresented technologists need equal opportunity to showcase their skills, do meaningful work, voice their opinions, and get equal access to promotion opportunities. As a leader, identify and encourage those with potential confidence gaps to apply for and accept roles that will help their advancement, as well as solve important business challenges.
Elevating people of color who’ve already chosen to work in tech is critical to increasing and sustaining diversity in the field. Diverse teams are more effective teams, so fostering equality in your team also makes good business sense. At Capital One, our tech, design, and product teams—who are building products and solutions to help people manage their money—gain empathy from diverse perspectives reflective of the broad customer base we serve.
Keep Up The Momentum
Whether you’re a CEO, manager, or coworker, it’s everyone’s responsibility to elevate diverse teams within their tech organizations. It could begin with something as fundamental as giving every person a chance to speak up in meetings, or recommending a colleague who would be a great fit for a promotion, or something as organized as creating official diversity initiatives and groups within your organization.
That’s why Capital One invests in internal and external initiatives, at the local and national level, to help underrepresented men and women at all stages in their technology-career journey. From overhauling recruitment processes, to forming internal groups where employees from underrepresented backgrounds can find mentors, to dedicating company-wide forums to elevating underrepresented technologists in the workplace, we have seen the power individual change makers can have in their organizations.
Internally Drive Change — And Partner for Greater Impact
Surround yourself with co-workers and allies who push for equality — and if you have an idea for a new diversity initiatives at your company, find a senior executive who will support you and amplify your voice.
In 2014, two software engineers, Kaylyn Gibilterra and Katie Thompson, came into my office to discuss the shift in diversity in technology, highlighting the challenges and opportunities that we could address in the short term. After I met with them, we started a working group, which developed into an enterprise-wide committee, an allies program, and then local chapters at Capital One offices across the country and internationally. Now we have a movement of women technologists and allies throughout the company, as well as Blacks in Tech and Hispanics in Tech initiatives.
In order to boost participation from underrepresented technologists, look at the specific programs you could create internally. These types of initiatives can promote the hiring and retention of employees with diverse backgrounds, while supporting them in ways that address their unique challenges and contributions. It’s also important for companies to invest in and partner with organizations that support improving the representation and experience for those with historically marginalized identities, such as Code 2040, Black Girls Code and Year Up.
People can come together to break down the structural barriers that keep Black and Latinx people out of one the most powerful sectors of our time; it starts with awareness and continues as action. Why is it so critical to create a representative workforce in the tech industry? Equality in tech is one of the most important factors in the future that we will build for ourselves. Those who create the technologies of tomorrow, especially in AI and machine learning, will have a massive impact on every aspect of society. If we don’t increase representation in tech, we risk living in a world highly impacted by innovations that operate from narrow, biased perspectives, instead of technologies that reflect—and serve—us all.
Julie Elberfeld is Senior Vice President of Shared Technology and Executive Sponsor of Diversity and Inclusion for Technology at Capital One, leading an important and complex portion of the company’s cloud-technology journey and Capital One’s diversity in tech initiatives. She is also the founder of Capital One’s Women in Tech program, has decades of experience as a technologist in the private sector, and is a passionate advocate for equality.
Elberfeld is a featured speaker at this year’s Capital One House at SXSW — to learn more, visit Capital.One/SXSW.