An overwhelming majority of entrepreneurs in the tech industry are white and male. But through better education, assistance from venture capitalists and support from major companies, the industry could be on the brink of a major shakeup.
Companies like Facebook and Google recently disclosed statistics about the demographics of their workforces, which confirmed what many had already believed – the faces behind these companies are mostly white males.
Out of Facebook’s nearly 7,000 employees, 69 percent are males. Out of all of its employees in the U.S., nearly 60 percent are white.
Google’s report, which was released in January, revealed similar numbers.
Roughly 70 percent of Google’s employees are men, and more than 60 percent are white. About 2 percent are Black.
So what is causing such a drastic race and gender gap in employees at major tech companies?
According to the panelists at Technoir, it has a lot to do with education and support.
Technoir, which was held in August, is the first in a series of discussions and networking events created to examine the challenges and opportunities that Black entrepreneurs often face.
One of the main challenges the event’s panelists discussed was the importance of quality education.
Aaron Saunders, chief executive of Clearly Innovative, pointed out that youths need to be skilled in mathematics and science in order to succeed in the tech industry.
Not only that, but they need to be in an environment where they can learn about all the different careers that the tech industry has to offer.
Saunders has already co-founded a summer camp and academic program at Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science in Washington, D.C., called Startup Middle School.
The program gives its young members more experience using science, math and technology to solve a variety of different problems.
According to Saunders, it was not only troubling that the students were not given many opportunities to build their math and science skills outside of his camp, but also that they had never even met anyone who worked in the technology industry.
“These are the things that make a difference,” he said. “These are the things that move the needle.”
Meanwhile, other panelists stressed that the right education will not be enough to create a more diverse space in the tech industry.
Minority tech entrepreneurs need the same support and financial backing that white males are often awarded.
“A lot of these firms, their diversity is in my opinion shameful,” said Justin Maddox, the chief executive of CrowdTrust. “It’s extremely lame in 2014 for you not to be able to reach outside your demographic and grab somebody of another gender or another race.”
Talib I. Karim, executive director of the nonprofit STEM4US!, agreed with Maddox.
“If you have a great idea and somebody believes the only people who have great ideas are white males, then how are we ever going to create an economy that outperforms those economies like China,” Karim questioned. “We have an advantage in our diversity.”
The good news for many minority entrepreneurs is that the growth of crowd funding provides some sort of financial backing when venture capitalists and other potential investors turn the other cheek.
Sites like KickStarter and Indiegogo have made it easy for emerging entrepreneurs to get the financial aid they need to launch a startup or continue the growth of their business.
With those tools in mind, Toya Powell believes it is vital that minority entrepreneurs support each other.
“Everyone in this room has the capacity to be an angel,” said Powell, the vice president of operations at the National Black Chamber of Commerce. “You could, in your own sphere of influence, invest in each other.”