In 2007, one of my first companies, Black Web 2.0, was a site that covered news related to African Americans in the tech industry. Back in those days, it was hard to cover news--so honestly, it was really up to us to create it. Since we found that subjects to interview and feature were far and few between, it was no easy task. That's what excites me most about all the initiatives with a mission to diversify the industry: Back in the day, these things just flat-out didn't exist, and there was no pressure from any direction to change it.
So we should be excited, right? People are finally taking notice, and we have a ton of programs and commitments from large corporations. Wrong. I recently read an article about Facebook's new diversity initiative, TechPrep. I went to the site. It's beautiful and has some good info on it. I noticed in the footer they describe the program as "a Facebook-led initiative, supported by McKinsey & Company, to promote computer science and programming as a career option and to provide resources to get started." I don't know about you, but this sounds to me like Facebook is doing the work and McKinsey is paying for it, which is...strange. I find it hard to believe that Facebook can't find any money in their budgets to pay for what seems to want to be a long-term diversity initiative and/or not create a serious dedicated budget (not petty cash) for diversity initiatives. It screams half-assed and noncommittal to me.
Listen, I really want to love initiatives like this, but I just can't. I refuse to believe that some of the most innovative companies in the world are coming up with these very rudimentary solutions. This is a prime example of how disconnected the tech industry, and the people who work in it, are from the real world. Here's exactly what I mean:
"Half of Blacks and 42 percent of Hispanics say they would be good at working with computers, compared with 35 percent of whites and 35 percent of Asians."
This is the key stat they tout, and it's the biggest red flag and indicator that the study is flawed--because they don't understand the intricacies they're dealing with. You have to be in the community to understand that, with people of color, the term "working with computers" is a blanket statement for the technology industry. For most, there is no difference between someone who rebuilds computers and someone who is building a mobile app: They both "work on computers." Even some of my family members still liken the work I do to "working with computers."
And of all the research firms, I'm really confused as to why McKinsey was the best choice for this. I'm no genius, but I would think that Facebook would have gone to an agency or firm that specializes in multicultural marketing research. Even if McKinsey does foot the bill, the goal is to get the right data, right?
"Facebook will run Facebook ads to publicize the new program."
It's super smart to use the tools they've already built to generate awareness about the program. However, based on the approach taken with their research, I'm not sold that they will even know how to target these folks on their own platform.
"It will also host a roadshow in U.S. cities in coming months. And it has reached out to the Boys and Girls Club of America, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Oakland Unified School District, and Girls Who Code to spread the word."
I love the idea of a roadshow, but I'm going to ask a simple question that just about every person in tech asks when wanting to know the viability of a product: How does it scale?
I know Facebook and companies like it mean well, but they have to come at this issue harder to make us believe they are genuinely interested in solving this problem, and not simply launching an initiative to deflect how much they suck at diversity right now. These initiatives should be launched thoughtfully and have the same resources many of their product lines do. They should act like their life depends on it, because the closer we get to 2040, it does.
Note: After this column was published, a Facebook spokeswoman contacted Inc.com to point out that TechPrep is a Facebook-led initiative, supported by McKinsey. I stand by my opinion.