Reflecting on Diversity in Tech on MLK Day

Last Fall, I attended a conference where someone asked the room how many African American tech founders they could name. Only a handful of people responded and even less could name more than two or three. While disheartening, it was not wholly surprising.

According to Kauffman Foundation findings, African American-owned businesses experience loan application approvals at lower rates than White-owned and Asian-owned businesses. As a result, African American entrepreneurs often enter industries with lower capital requirements and higher failure rates, impacting the ability of these new, susceptible companies to weather setbacks during their early stages. Additionally, less than one percent of African American founders receive venture funding, often forcing them to operate as the singular employee and limiting their ability to build and grow their business.

Of further concern, research performed by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that African Americans are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, which often translate to higher salaries after graduation. Moreover, according to the U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index, there has been virtually no progress since 2000 in decreasing racial disparities in interest and aptitude for a STEM education path.

Today, as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most ardent advocates for the advancement and equality of African Americans in history, we should reflect on the continuing injustice in our socioeconomic system and contemplate how we can more effectively work to close the racial entrepreneurship gap.

One group who is diligently working to arm African Americans with the training and resources they need to overcome persisting institutional hurdles is Code2040. This non-profit is composed of a community of African American and Latino technologists who are delivering high-impact direct service programs, as well as in-person and online community engagement, to empower and mobilize diversity champions across the country. Their goal is to have “blacks and latinos proportionally represented in the leading edge of America’s innovation economy” by 2040, the year when it is predicted that minorities will become the majority in the US.

Another organization that plays a crucial role in changing the demographics of tech, is Black Founders. Simply put, their mission is to increase the number of successful African American entrepreneurs in the technology sector. To achieve this, they have developed training programs, conferences, hackathons, and connections to reliable capital.

As we strive to honor the teachings and triumphs of Dr. King, it is important to remember the progress that has yet to be made and continue his fight for diversity and equality.