The conversation around diversity in tech persists. One effect of this has been the creation of executive positions designed to oversee a company’s approach to inclusion. That’s great.
However, it has also resulted in the dilution of the word “diversity” and subsequent backlash in Silicon Valley and beyond. And yet, the tech industry is primed to not only model diversity and inclusion, but also to collaborate with those outside of tech working to make the U.S. a more just place.
TechCrunch Sessions: Justice brought together activists, union organizers, advocates and tech leaders to for lively conversations examining the intersection of justice and tech. Leslie Mac, DeRay Mckesson, Maxine Williams, Tony Prophet, Malkia Cyril, Matt Mitchell and Nicole Sanchez joined folks from the ACLU, the Last Mile, Measures for Justice and the Hidden Genius Project to examine criminal justice reform, diversity and inclusion, tech and the so-called pipeline problem that hiring managers like to bandy about. You should have been there.
If you weren’t among the lucky ones to have the privilege of attending, we have you covered. Below is every single panel that made up TechCrunch Sessions: Justice. Watch them, share them and continue the conversation.
Rallying the Tech Industry for Good
Why did Elon Musk wait until it was about the climate to pull out of Trump’s councils? Why shouldn’t a tech CEO run for governor? Federal policies affect local constituencies and people in tech have an opportunity to fight for change at the local level. Erica Baker, soon-to-be director of engineering at Kickstarter, and Catherine Bracy, co-founder and executive director of TechEquity Collaborative, discussed the interest the tech industry has taken in social justice issues.
Funding Underrepresented Entrepreneurs
When you’re a first-time founder of color trying to get funding, what do you have to do? According to Michael Seibel of Y Combinator, you have to be 20 percent better at everything. Monique Woodard of 500 Startups and Laura Gómez, CEO and founder of Atipica, debate whether an aspiring founder needs to be in Silicon Valley and offer practical advice to getting that first meeting. And the second.
Why the Black Community Needs Encryption
You might not know that you need a big “crypto hug,” but Matt Mitchell of Crypto Harlem has one for you. But why for the black community in particular?
“Surveillance is a tool of oppression, and black folks have been surveilled since before the slave ships. You look at a manifest of a slave ship and people were numbers and cataloged. You look at an overseers diary and it’s basically a CCTV camera but written out in handwriting. All the way up to COINTELPRO where a who’s who of civil rights and racial justice leaders from the 60s and 70s [were surveilled]. It’s part of a program, especially in this country, to dismantle those organizations because they’re disruptive.”
Why Silicon Valley Struggles with Diversity
It’s no secret that Silicon Valley has a diversity problem. But who doesn’t? “The legacy of this country — we were founded on slavery and stolen land and genocide,” says Nicole Sanchez, vice president of social impact at GitHub. “Silicon Valley alone isn’t going to be able to upend that.” This question is impossible to answer unless those who are asking it are willing to go far deeper than the numbers from a diversity report.
Wayne Sutton of Change Catalyst, Rachel Williams, head of diversity at Yelp, and LaFawn Davis, global head of culture and inclusion at Twilio, talked about what it takes for tech companies to get at the root of their diversity problems.
Facebook’s Diversity Playbook
Cognitive diversity + programming: That is the “yes-and” equation that Maxine Williams, head of diversity at Facebook, employs at the company in its pursuit of a more diverse workforce. When you have cognitive diversity, a foundation where people think differently, that is where you achieve diversity of thought. At that point, Williams says, is when the “and” part of the equation emerges. “When I say it’s yes-and, we lay the foundation with cognitive diversity as a principle, and then we talk about the programming, and the programming does in fact go heavy on things like gender, race, ethnicity.”
She also touches upon hiring practices in tech. You know when you tell the people you know about the jobs open in your company? Williams isn’t a fan of that. “I’m not in the people you know thing; I’m into skills you have.”
Breaking into Tech as a Returning Citizen
Many of us will never serve time in prison, and many of us will never serve time in the military. Yet, those who have will sometimes find themselves suddenly thrust back into society, forced to make livings that they might not be prepared to make.
Kenyatta Leal, having served 19 years in prison, was released from San Quentin and immediately began working for RocketSpace. Donald Coolidge, a veteran of the Marine Corps., is the co-founder and CEO of Elemental Path. Organizations like Chris Redlitz’s The Last Mile and Katherine Webster’s VetsinTech help bridge the gap for those who want to break into the tech industry as a returning citizen. The panelists have stories that I’m sure not many of you can relate to.
Justice for Low-Wage Tech Workers
Living in the Central Valley of California and commute two hours each way to Cisco taxes your time, energy and bank account. Do this as a low-wage worker and your life is dramatically impacted in ways most people will never understand. Jennifer Morales, who works in a cafeteria at Cisco, kicked this panel off by talking about her job before and after she and her colleagues organized a union.
Derecka Mehrens of Working Partnerships for her part is trying to challenge the narrative that Silicon Valley is working for everyone. Because as she says, it isn’t. “Silicon Valley Rising came out of this idea that we had to not only push to create middle wage jobs we had to upgrade the conditions of low-wage work especially in profitable industries.” Guess what industry is profitable? And Y-Vonne Hutchinson of Project Include flipped the conversation to the 1099 workers whose roles aren’t all that great, either. Oh, and Morales is just getting started.
Racial and Economic Justice in the Digital Age
“You cannot inject technologies into a condition or situation of white supremacy and expect anything but white supremacy to be the result,” Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice says about the role that technology plays in the quest for racial and economic justice. It’s a grim reality; when body cameras focus their gaze on black and brown bodies and social media platforms readily police the words of black activists, the pursuit for justice becomes harder.
Cyril says we need to shift the power dynamic and demonstrate more directly what communities of color want. Silencing voices and limiting action is not the way to achieve that goal.
Why Code Matters for Underrepresented Youth
Hiring reps at tech companies will tell you the reason their companies’ demographics lean heavily toward the white, cis and male is because there is a pipeline problem. Karla Monterosso from Code 2040, Michael Essien of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Academic Middle School, and Brandon Nicholson of The Hidden Genius Project will tell you differently. It’s about access and it’s about opportunity.
Digitizing the Resistance
We’re in a time of resistance. If you haven’t felt it, social activist DeRay Mckesson of Campaign Zero and Pod Save the People broke it down for you. He talked Twitter’s role in activism and what it’s like to walk the resistance road in 2017 and beyond: “I try not to let the fear get to me too much, because I know that people want to see me too afraid to do the work.”
Salesforce Chief Equality Officer Tony Prophet told the Justice audience members to think about “self ID” before they watched a video clip he brought. What does it mean at your workplace to say “I’m ____”? How many of you have thought about having to do that? Prophet is working to ensure that Salesforce employees can show up every day and feel comfortable “bringing their entire self to work. ”It’s never too early to think about company culture, inclusion, how diverse your workforce is, and how inclusive your advisers and boards of directors are. “What’s the essence of the endeavor that you’re embarking on?” he asks founders and people in the early stages of starting a company. Sound advice.
Why the Criminal Justice System Needs Data
Data is playing a significant role in identifying the racial disparities in our criminal justice system. Ana Zamora of the ACLU says that at all levels — from the police, to prosecutors, sheriffs, corrections system, probation/parole, etc. — we need to see who is doing what in order to reform the criminal justice system. It’s in the data.
As Amy Bach of Measures for Justice says, “no data, no change.” The voters want it, too, Zamora says. Through data, narrative and social media and technology, we can bring these issues to the voters so they can understand what the issues are and who is in charge. Don’t boo. Vote.
Making Tech Accessible
Diversity reports break down the racial, ethnic, gender and sexual orientation demographics of those companies that choose to release them. However, often overlooked are the number of people with disabilities who work at these companies.
In this panel are Matt King, who works on the accessible engineering team at Facebook, and KR Liu, director of advocacy and accessibility at Doppler Labs. They discuss the importance of engineers to adhere to the needs of people with disabilities so that tech is available to all.
Fixing Uber’s Culture Problem
Requisite sentence about Uber’s rough year. On the day the company fired 20 people, Bernard Coleman, the company’s newish head of diversity, talked about diversity, inclusion and whether he regrets taking the job. (He says he doesn’t.) Among his ideas for making Uber less Uber-like are developing an “inclusion index” to understand what inclusion looks like across all groups. And workshops. Lots of workshops. Coleman said he went to Uber for the challenge. He got one.
Mobilizing White People in the Fight for Racial Justice
“White supremacy is insidious. One of the most insidious pieces of it is that it’s meant to be obscured by those who benefit from it most.” Leslie Mac, an activist, writer and entrepreneur, telling the sad, plain truth.
The Safety Pin Box co-founder and activist, who was banned by Facebook in December, spoke with me about the role that white privilege plays in the persistence of our racist society and how white folks can be true allies (without calling themselves allies) in the fight for racial justice. She even had jokes: Two white allies walk into a bar … because it was set so low. Zing.
Reforming a Flawed Criminal Justice System
“Our criminal justice system is horribly broken,” began Shaka Senghor, a former prisoner, best-selling author and founder of just-launched Mind Blown Media, in this panel. “It’s not designed to ensure men and women come home healthy and whole. It’s designed to ensure men and women cycle in and out of prison.”
Senghor wants to not only tell his own stories but he also wants to give voice to incarcerated individuals who are among the “over-incarcerated.” The personal is political and everyone has a story to tell.