In September 2018, McKinsey & Company and Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company founded by Melinda Gates, co-authored a report that brought to light new data around the gender gap in tech, particularly for underrepresented women of color. On the heels of its publication, a group of leading tech companies launched the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition, a multi-million dollar effort to double the number of Black, Latinx, and Native American women graduating with computing degrees by 2025. With now fifteen coalition partners and over sixteen million dollars committed through 2021 working in service of this goal, we’re taking a breath to share some initial thoughts and learnings after one year in operation.
WHY IS REBOOT NECESSARY?
In our 2018 report, we uncovered an acute dissonance in the realm of corporate giving: though the 32 tech companies we surveyed expressed a strong desire to reach underrepresented women of color, less than 0.1% of their 2017 philanthropic giving, amounting to just $335,000, focused specifically on reaching that audience. Despite ongoing and visible efforts to achieve gender and racial parity across sectors, there’s a pervasive equity problem in the tech industry that disproportionately impacts underrepresented women of color.
Over the past decade, the percentage of Black, Latinx, and Native American female students receiving computer and information sciences degrees fell by nearly 40%. So, as the technology sector booms and draws more prospective students broadly, the share of underrepresented women of color receiving relevant degrees is actually declining. And even though more companies are working to increase workforce representation, broad recruitment efforts often fail to specifically hire more underrepresented women of color into technical roles.
No single company created gender and racial inequity in the industry, but as a collective, we have the power and resources to change the current landscape. Enter the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition. The coalition was born out of the notion that impactful change can come from pooled philanthropic dollars and collective grants supporting the unique needs and challenges facing underrepresented women of color in the computing field, particularly in higher education.
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE SO FAR?
Reboot coalition companies are doing something that hasn’t been done in the tech industry before: making intentional, collective efforts to improve representation through philanthropic investments. After a year of collective grantmaking, we’re sharing some early insights guiding our approach. While it’s too soon to share impact data, we want to lay out our initial strategies to lower barriers to entry for research-backed opportunities to take action.
1. There’s more than one on-ramp to a computing career. A “typical” path to a computing career may look something like this in the public imagination: taking an early interest in computing; enrolling in an AP Computer Science course in high school; attending an elite four-year university; majoring in computer science; entering the workforce to your pick of jobs at the most prominent tech companies. Simple, right? Not for everyone. As our 2018 report pointed out, girls are less likely than boys to have exposure to computing as children. This means that later on-ramps are critical in making up lost ground. Through our grant strategy, we are interested in identifying and investing in programs and institutions that support the belief that it’s never too late to begin a computing career.
Our grantees are already bringing this to life. At WiTNY (Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York)’s Summer Guild program, no experience is required for incoming freshmen and rising sophomores at the City University of New York (CUNY) to enroll in an experiential learning program that introduces women to design and development concepts that preview a career in tech. In addition to meeting computer science faculty and professionals in the industry, participants are paid a stipend after completing the program. No-experience-required options that incentivize computing participation in high school and higher education begin to level the playing field.
2. Approachable pathways can better serve students who likely had less access to math and science curriculum. Research indicates that the AP CS exam program increases the likelihood of a student to major in computing fields. One 2011 study showed that 17.9% of AP CS students majored in computer and information sciences, compared to 2.3% of the total sample. Some of our grantmaking focuses on the high school experiences that can act as roadblocks to pursuing computing degrees– and subsequently, computing careers. Even though these exams aren’t squarely in the domain of higher education, the availability of and success on these tests can greatly impact the future of students across the country.
KIPP is a national network of public charter schools with 31 high schools across the country primarily serving Black and Latinx students. By supporting all KIPP high schools in implementing introductory AP CS classes and training teachers to deliver these courses, our grant is supporting an environment where computer science classes are widely accessible. Beyond implementation, KIPP is incentivizing schools to ensure that computer science classes are at least 50% female students.
3. In higher education, recruitment and retention go hand in hand. Getting students into programs and ensuring that they stay there may seem like two separate goals, but in a country where only 60% of undergraduates earn their degrees in six years, it’s clear that you can’t prioritize one over the other. This can be particularly impactful for underrepresented communities. In addition to improving pathways and removing barriers to entry, we want to make sure that those who enroll are supported by peers, mentors, resources, and opportunities which all play a role in the actual procurement of a degree.
The American Indian College Fund (College Fund) bridges the opportunity for private sector resources to support American Indian and Alaska Native college students. To increase access, graduation, and career readiness for Native American women in computing fields, our gift to the College Fund supports a newly created program providing wraparound services to Native American women in computing, including peer mentoring, career exploration, hands-on success coaching, events, and scholarships. To spur lasting change, ensuring support for students until the last day of school should be just as important as welcoming them on the first.
4. An unapologetic focus leads to big picture wins. We are dedicated to improving representation for Black, Latinx, and Native American women— which is why many of our grantees are institutions and programs that serve those communities specifically. These grantees are positioned to address the specific barriers and challenges facing underrepresented women of color, and their focused work ladders up to an industry that is more diverse, more innovative, and more representative of the world we live in.
In its second year, the Reboot coalition will continue to hone in on impactful, philanthropic strategies to increase the number of underrepresented women of color graduating with computing degrees. As we begin to see the outcomes of our initial grants, we’re mindful that meaningful collective action is dependent on collective learning. As a coalition, we have the power to better track our impact, test our innovations, and improve our strategies to meet our goals going forward.
The Reboot Representation Tech Coalition believes that representation in tech cannot be achieved through guilt, charity, or conversation alone. As a result, the coalition’s focus is on concrete resources going to impactful programs that address systemic issues in our education system and our industry as a whole. To learn more or to join us, visit RebootRepresentation.org or follow us on Twitter @RebootRepresent. Contribute to a broader discussion using #RebootRepresentation