What should tech companies be doing differently to make a positive social impact? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
What should tech companies be doing differently to make a positive social impact?
First, big tech companies need to start proactively training local communities for the jobs they are trying to fill. I'll call out Facebook as an example. This company is going to hire tons of people for decades, and their headquarters sits literally at the edge of two low-income communities that desperately need economic opportunity. Invest in job training programs locally. Make it a special point to do job fairs locally and hire locally. And I'm not talking about the service staff, the janitorial staff, or the security staff. I'm talking about your core functions: programmers, marketers, project managers, and so on. Because if you don't, I can tell you what's going to happen: the folks living in East Palo Alto and Belle Haven will be forced to leave as their rent goes up without any commensurate job opportunities. This is displacement we've seen time and time again, and it's going to continue to happen.
Second, Tech companies can do more to educate their employees on what obstacles people outside tech face in finding economic opportunity. Put frankly, Tech folks need to stop believing that they sit at the top of a beautiful and perfect meritocracy! Let's take Hackernews for a second: I love and admire that community. I find them so lucid and so thoughtful on such a wide range of topics. Except when anything touches social inequality. Then all of a sudden, I feel like we're on different planets. And I think that comes down to a difference of understanding of why people suffer in America (or elsewhere). The successful programmer on HN often starts their comment from an assumption that the world is a meritocratic place, and that they've found their success fairly and justly. I think the idea that it might not be a beautiful meritocracy is really threatening to a lot of tech people, so they reject that. I think that supports a lot of implicit bias. I'd love to break that down with more storytelling and humanizing the obstacles folks face. I think tech companies can have a lot of positive impact on this by making that storytelling a part of their internal culture and rituals and communications.
Third, Tech companies need to stop believing that their mission is society's mission. I don't mean that they aren't great, or that their technology isn't game changing, or that they aren't fantastic for economies and societies. Technological innovation is critical to our economic and social wellbeing. But let's stop conflating the two things. If tech companies stop presuming that their company's work IS the change society needs, they'll all of a sudden be able to seriously engage with social impact organizations and engage their employees in the work of social change. I think the finance industry figured this out a long time ago. I've been in those board rooms where hedge fund managers and investment bankers and private equity investors sit around and say "Look, we know that we're the gears that keep the economy moving, but we also know that isn't going to do much for the homeless person on the street today, so let's get involved with these service organizations over here that are trying to do the good work that needs to be done." But I don't always hear that from the tech sector leaders. I hear something more like "[Startup X] is the change the world needs to make a more just and fair society, through [or insert any cliched technology solution that doesn't actually have anything directly to do with a social problem]." Not to pick on Facebook too much in one post, but it's another good example here because of the way they talk about the mission of Facebook BEING the good the world needs. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it leaves no room for the company or the employees to look outside of the company for ways to have an impact. It leaves no room for alliances or collaborations or partnerships. And it doesn't have to be that way. partners with tons of Tech companies that don't conflate their mission with society's mission. Awesome Tech companies that want to do good for their customers and do good for the world, and know how to talk about them as two different things that are symbiotic.
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