Media Impact Forum 2015: Unlocking Opportunity in Diverse Communities

The Media Impact Forum kicked off its symposium with a moving presentation by CNN Commentator and former Obama Administration official Van Jones, who laid out a vision for greater inclusion in the technology industry, focusing on the #YesWeCode initiative run by his organization, Dream Corps, with support from The Atlantic Philanthropies.

The Washington Post: Silicon Valley struggles to hack its diversity problem


Yahoo disclosed last week that African Americans made up just 2 percent of its workers, while Hispanics stood at 4 percent. Those revelations came days after Facebook reported that in 2014 it had employed just 81 blacks among its 5,500 U.S. workers.

Silicon Valley has a diversity problem, a contentious issue that has come into sharper focus in recent months as tech firms have sheepishly released updates on their hiring of minorities. The companies have pledged to do better. Many point to the talent pipeline as one of the main culprits. They’d hire if they could, but not enough black and Hispanic students are pursuing computer science degrees, they say.

But fresh data show that top schools are turning out black and Hispanic graduates with tech degrees at rates significantly higher than they are being hired by leading tech firms.

Last year, black students took home 4.1 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in computer science, information technology and computer engineering, according to an annual survey by the Computing Research Association of 121 top U.S. and Canadian colleges. That’s double the average of blacks hired at the biggest tech firms. Hispanics accounted for 7.7 percent of the degrees.

“It would be a more convincing argument if their numbers more closely tracked what we were producing,” said Stuart Zweben, an Ohio State computer science professor who helps conduct the survey. And Silicon Valley’s diversity problem exists not just on the tech side.

Tech’s largest firms also significantly lag in their hiring of minorities for sales, marketing and public relations jobs.

At Google, blacks and Hispanics each accounted for just 4 percent of Google’s non- technical workforce last year. At Facebook, blacks made up 3 percent of its non-tech workforce in May, while Hispanics were at 7 percent.

In the overall U.S. workforce, blacks made up 13 percent of employees and Hispanics were at 16 percent.

The lack of minorities in Silicon Valley has been met by a rising sense of urgency. Firms began disclosing their diversity data last year under pressure from groups such as Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition. And those numbers have underscored the extent of the problem in this tech hotbed, where former start-ups have matured into some of the nation’s leading economic engines. Further doubts about workplace equality in Silicon Valley were stoked this year by the high-profile trial involving former Reddit chief executive Ellen Pao, who lost her sex discrimination case against storied venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Jackson rebutted claims by companies that there simply isn’t a robust talent pool of blacks and Latinos. He for years attended shareholder meetings for Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google and demanded that the companies release data on their workforces.

“They aren’t looking in the right places,” Jackson said in an interview. “And this doesn’t answer the question of why the vast majority of their workforce — which is non-tech — is also lacking diversity.”

Challenging issue

For a tech sector accustomed to hacking its way out of problems, making its workforce more diverse has emerged as a major challenge. And the industry has only recently admitted its shortcomings. Until last year, Google, Apple and Facebook, among others, declined to disclose data on workforce diversity. Some firms — such as Oracle, which has 122,000 workers worldwide and declined to respond to a request for comment for this article — still haven’t. Yahoo also declined to comment.

In tech’s data-driven world, the numbers were bruising. For example, Facebook’s data showed that it added only seven black employees from 2012 to 2013, before hiring 36 between 2013 and 2014.

“We know we have work to do,” said Ime Archibong, a Yale grad who is black and works at Facebook as its strategic partnerships director. “We know that.”

Others said it will take time for efforts to reflect in their employment data.

“The pipeline is just a piece of it. Our main issue is that any meaningful change for a company our size takes time,” said Roya Soleimani, a spokeswoman at Google.

Facebook’s challenge is that it is looking for a very specific group of computer science graduates, for instance, people who understand data systems and algorithms, said Maxine Williams, the global head of diversity at Facebook.

“We are trying desperately to have a more diverse workforce and deal with the constraints on the pipeline,” Williams said.

But some in the tech world believe the focus on the pipeline overshadows the wealth of qualified minority candidates already out there.

“It’s not even remotely a pipeline issue,” said Andrea Hoffman, who runs Culture Shift Labs, which helps companies find minority and female talent. Her company recently hosted a brunch in Palo Alto, Calif., for minority job-seekers in tech and finance. The 200 seats were snapped up, and she had to make a waiting list for 200 more.

“For anybody to tell me the talent isn’t out there,” she said, “I know emphatically that’s not true.”

Asians are the exception. They have been hired at rates far above other minority groups and even above their representation in the overall U.S. workforce. At Facebook, for example, 41 percent of the tech workforce is Asian.

The strong recruitment of Asians is attributed to the hiring of skilled immigrants, particularly from China and India, and high U.S. graduate rates of Asians in computer science programs. Asians have also established tight-knit networking organizations such as The Indus Entrepreneurs, or TIE, a business networking group that began in 1992 in Silicon Valley and now has
13,000 members around the world.

Tackling bias

Big tech companies, aside from their concerns about the pipeline, also point to a tangle of challenges, including unconscious biases that have given preference to white men. That bias shows up in recruiting, with companies drawing from the same top universities, where black and Hispanic graduates are still lagging behind other groups.

“Once you have a Latina Marissa Mayer and a black Mark Zuckerberg, a lot of these problems will go away,” said Van Jones, one of the founders of Yes We Code, a group that aims to teach 100,000 low-income people to write computer code. “The pipeline isn’t big enough, and the uptake isn’t aggressive enough.”

The problem is particularly acute at start-ups, where black founders are just 1 percent of venture-invested firms, according to a 2011 survey by CB Insights. Venture capital firms — mostly led by white men — have admitted that they are often introduced to start-ups from their own business contacts — also largely white men. And then the big firms acquire these start-ups or hire from them in a self-perpetuating pattern.

More comprehensive data on the number of black and Latino partners at venture firms isn’t yet available, said Kate Mitchell, a partner at Scale Venture Partners and the head of a diversity task force for the National Venture Capital Association trade group.

“I think it says something that we don’t even have the numbers,” Mitchell said. “How do we even know it’s a problem if we don’t have the numbers to show it exists?”

There is a rich body of research that shows how big companies used specific plans to increase diversity. A 2015 study by the McKinsey consulting firm showed that companies with more diversity in leadership were 35 percent more likely to report financial returns above their national industry median.

The issue of diversity “hasn’t moved into the top priorities so that it is something the CEOs are talking about constantly,” said Megan Smith, the national chief technology officer, who was appointed by President Obama to lead tech policy. “That is something the research shows works; that if your leadership team is constantly talking about it and iterating on it just like they would on products and businesses, that will move the needle.”

In 2000, Coca-Cola settled a $192.5 million racial discrimination lawsuit brought by black employees who accused the company of race-based pay discrimination. Throughout the 18-month court battle, the company’s reputation suffered as the case drew international attention.

As a result, the company rewrote its employment policies and doubled the number of minorities in management positions. Today, African American staff make up 21 percent of the company, while Hispanics are at 18 percent.

Surge in programs

In the past year, the biggest tech firms have announced a slew of programs aimed at increasing diversity in their ranks.

Facebook expanded its summer internship program for minority computer science majors and started a new internship for minority business majors. Facebook also implemented a rule that requires recruiters to interview minority candidates.

Google, Facebook and Apple expanded the number of colleges for recruiting. Google said it found that 35 percent of black computer science graduates were coming from historically black colleges. So two years ago, it began to embed engineers at those schools to teach and mentor students into careers at the company.

Intel has been particularly aggressive. Earlier this year, the chipmaker pledged that its workforce would reflect the broader U.S. labor pool by 2020, and it created a $300 million venture fund designated for minority-led start-ups.

Christopher Hocutt is one of those who have benefited from the efforts. The Howard University student, who is black, struggled to get a summer internship in Silicon Valley, even with solid grades and after serving as president of the school’s Association for Computing Machinery.

During his junior year, Google began its guest teaching program and sent an engineer to Howard. The Google employee became a mentor to Hocutt, teaching the Richmond, Va., native what to expect in a summer internship interview and making important introductions to recruiters.

“I didn’t even know where to start, and I didn’t know how important it was to know how the process worked,” said Hocutt, who got the summer internship.

This summer, Google hired 30 college students from the historically black colleges for summer internships. Hocutt graduated from Howard in June and began as the first full-time hire from the search-engine giant’s program.

Read original story at The Washington Post.

Innovating the Future at #EssenceFest 2015!

essence fest


EPIC is the only way I can describe last week’s historic 10-Day Road to #YesWeCode Bus Tour and Hackathon.

More than 80 students took a road trip with #YesWeCode and Estella’s Brilliant Bus across seven cities before arriving at Essence Festival in New Orleans.

At the TECHJXN Innovation Summit and Hackathon kick off in Jackson, Mississippi, students designed mobile app concepts designed to improve their communities. The top teams pitched their app ideas on the main stage at Essence Festival in front of a panel of judges. One of our celebrity guest judges was singer India Arie

CONGRATS to the grand prize winning team who pitched G.E.C.C. This app crowdsources and reports on local infrastructure issues, such as potholes, so government officials can better address them. In addition to taking home brand new tablet devices, the winners will also receive six months of professional mentorship from a tech firm in New Orleans.

Thank you to our incredible sponsors, partners, supporters, volunteers and students for showing the world, "YES WE CODE." 

Check out our digital recap below and relive the magic >>

- Van


VIDEO: Alabama Newscenter: Estella’s Brilliant Bus elevating innovation among the young on the way to Alabama

Forty students left West Palm Beach, Fla., Thursday and are expected in Alabama on Sunday, June 28, as part of a historic, multistate road trip and “hackathon” with #YesWeCode. 

The 10-day, seven-city tour will visit Selma Sunday and arrive in Birmingham later that night, picking up students at stops along the tour. Eighty middle- and high-school students will end up on the trip.

#YesWeCode is a national initiative to help train 100,000 low-opportunity young people for careers in technology. The aim is to provide them with the resources and tools they need to become world-class computer programmers.

Sponsors of the “Road to #YesWeCode” trip are MSNBC, Ford Motor Company and Power Moves NOLA.

On the trip, students will learn skills such as tech entrepreneurship and mobile app development. They will visit cultural heritage landmarks, historic civil rights sites and historically black colleges and universities.

Van Jones, founder of #YesWeCode, speaks at the Power of Leadership program at Alabama Power.

“This is a life-changing opportunity for these young people,” Van Jones, founder of #YesWeCode, said in a news release. “Through the workshops, we aim to demystify the language of coding, and through the landmarks visits, we want to show them their heritage as well as the possibilities for their future.”

The Alabama Power Foundation is providing support for the bus tour.

“By exposing students to this career field, we are not only shaping the workforce of tomorrow, but tomorrow’s leaders,” said John Hudson, president of the Alabama Power Foundation.

#YesWeCode is collaborating for the second year with Estella’s Brilliant Bus, begun in 2009 by Estella Pyfrom. The retired veteran of 50 years at Florida’s Palm Beach County School District recognized the technology challenges for her students and chose to do something about it. Dipping into her pension fund, she created a nonprofit, state-of-the-art mobile technology and learning center.

The bus tour will visit Atlanta, Selma, Birmingham, Memphis, Jackson, Miss., and end in New Orleans on the July 4 holiday weekend. The top hackathon teams will pitch their app ideas on the main stage at the 2015 Essence Festival.

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Mississippi Business Journal: Innovation in Mississippi must be inclusive


In my last column I talked about the culture of giving in Mississippi, which we know cuts across race and religion. Our citizens are among the most charitable in the country.  Similarly, we need to work on embedding a culture of innovation in all citizens of Mississippi regardless of age, race, religion and economic status.  There is strong research-based evidence that 2.5 percent of individuals will be innovators in a given population, whom I consider to be “game-changers” in their respective areas of expertise.

If one was to oversimplify this scenario, we potentially have 74,182 individuals in Mississippi who are current and potential game changers as seen in the table below.  Furthermore, if you were to look at the racial breakdown of the state’s population, we would have almost 44,000 white and over 27,000 African American individuals who have the power transform our state.  I purposefully choose not to exclude any age groups in this analysis, because kids often approach problems in very unique ways and come up “answers” to problems, whereas adults are more worried about coming up the “correct answers” to the problems.We have to start imagining what is possible with an army of 74,000 game-changers who may be farmers, cooks, doctors, janitors, athletes, teachers, manual laborers, nurses, beauticians, students, scientists or engineers. 

If you think I am exaggerating, please think again! 

David Abney, the present CEO of United Parcel Service started his career with UPS in Greenwood loading trucks and now leads a company valued at more than $90 billion; Riley B. King, a son of sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta used his innovative style and business acumen to become the most famous Blues musician in the world.  There are others like Edward Barq who invented root beer in 1898 and Dr. James Hardy, who performed the first human heart transplant in 1963.  More recently, Charley Hutchison became one of the youngest Americans to develop an app for Apple iOS when he was just a sixth grader at St. Andrew’s Middle School in Ridgeland.  Earlier this year, Sarah Thomas from Pascagoula became the NFL’s first full-time female official.  Sarah was also the first female to officiate a bowl game at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2009 and has changed the game of football.Mississippi statsWhile our people are our greatest asset, not everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the economy at the same level.  National census data show that all 1.9 million black-owned businesses nationwide produce less than 1 percent of the nation’s GDP and zero percent job growth.  Combined with all Hispanic-owned businesses, the total contribution is still less than 4 percent with a mere 1 percent job growth annually.  By the middle of this century, black and Hispanic Americans will represent 42 percent of the nation’s population.  “America cannot reach her highest economic competitiveness goals with so much of her population producing so little,” says Johnathan Holifield, attorney, former NFL player and the architect of Inclusive Competitiveness, who will be one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming TECHJXN Innovation Summit and #YesWeCode Hackathon on June 30-July 1 in Jackson.  Other speakers include Gov. Phil Bryant and Mayor Tony Yarber.

This event is designed to serve as a catalyst that kicks off a strategic planning phase toward development of a TECHJXN Innovation Corridor, in which essential elements are included to enable participation for underrepresented communities in the innovation economy.  Nearly twenty local and national organizations are partnering to host the TECHJXN summit where TECH stands for technology, entertainment, construction and healthcare.  Add in elements of education and policy and you have a significant foundation of the innovation value chain to build an innovation hub or district, which is an emerging concept in urban planning for stimulating economic growth in cities across the globe.  “The idea of inclusive competitiveness presents a unique opportunity to promote development in Jackson by aligning innovative strategies with the talent, ideas and diversity of the city’s residents,” said Rhea Williams-Bishop, executive director of the Jackson-based Center for Education Innovation and a lead partner for this event.TECHJXN-logo_rgbFollowing the half-day summit, we will be holding Mississippi’s largest ever youth hackathon, where 80 students from Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and Alabama will be designing and prototyping mobile applications designed to address challenging social and civic issues.  The students from other states will be arriving in Mississippi on Estella’s Brilliant Bus and will complete their journey in New Orleans by competing in the 2015 Essence Festival Hackathon.  One key step toward bridging the digital divide that exists in our country and state is to connect minorities to technology opportunities and technological skills through events like the TECHJXN #YesWeCode Hackathon. For tickets and volunteering information please visit

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MSNBC’s Touré Hopes to Connect Kids in Oakland to Jobs in Silicon Valley


MSNBC’s Touré took his afternoon show The Cycle to Oakland for a one-hour live special aimed at connecting young African-American men with the training they need to succeed in high-tech careers. “I love Oakland, it’s a great town,” Touré told TVNewser.

The effort, sponsored by Ford Motor Company, was launched last year and MSNBC hosted another special, Growing Hope Live from Detroit with Joy Reidin March. “It’s extremely important to help steer young people into technology where there’s lots of jobs and opportunity,” said Touré, noting that Oakland presents a unique challenge for young people who live there. “They live so close to Silicon Valley and yet are so far from it unless they get a helping hand. #YesWeCode is trying to make that important bridge.”

A Growing Hope Special: The Cycle Live from Oakland aired Friday, June 19 at 3 p.m. ET. The event served as the kick-off for #YesWeCode and the Hidden Genius Project’s Summer of Innovation Program.

Click to check out the event gallery here.

Watch the full broadcast below:

#YesWeCode hosts 'Growing Hope in Oakland' town hall

Oakland to build a technology-driven innovation ecosystem that can be a model for similar communities in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.  


Detroit Free Press: Ford Freedom Awards Focus on Tech Innovation


Laura Weidman Powers was a graduate student studying youth development and the arts when someone suggested in 2009 that she apply for an internship at a tech company.

"I did it and fell in love with it," she said.

One of the things she discovered is that technology isn't one industry; it's an important facet of all industries.

She also discovered during the internship and subsequent jobs that there were few women and people of color studying or working in the field.

That's what led Powers to start CODE2040 in 2012, an organization that works in multiple ways to connect college students to high-demand tech jobs.

The company has grown from one person, herself in 2012, to 15 people today, and the number of fellows in a multifaceted career program has grown from five in 2012 to 15 this summer.

Powers, 32, of San Francisco, was one of several people who spoke to 1,700 metro Detroit students on Tuesday about the importance of considering technology in their future endeavors.

She shared a panel presentation with others including model, actress and app developer Lyndsey Scott, and Freada Kapor Klein who along with her husband, Mitch Kapor, founded the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Kapor Capital. The couple are this year's Ford Freedom Legacy Award winners, in recognition of their philanthropic efforts to support and encourage women, blacks and Latinos in tech fields.

Juanita Moore, president of the Wright museum, said it is important that this year's Ford Freedom Awards — the 17th annual — have a theme focused on technology. The year's theme is "Celebrating Technopreneurs: Builders of the Innovation Economy."

"We have to make sure that our kids know and understand all the possibilities," Moore said. "If you think about it, Dr. Wright was a scientist. He was an ob-gyn. It's important to bring people in to show young people role models of what they can accomplish."

Among those role models was Scott, who received a degree in computer science and theater from Amherst College, before pursuing a career as an actress and model.

Becoming an app developer helps her have greater control of her acting and modeling business, she said. For example, one app she created — iPort — gives her access to her modeling portfolio.

Scott, 30, who has modeled for Calvin Klein, Gucci, Victoria's Secret and others, credits her parents for instilling in her the importance of a solid education.

"When I was little, if someone said, 'You're so beautiful' or 'You're so pretty,' they'd always say, " 'Yeah, and she's very smart.' "

"I still act and model; but I like focusing on something I can control," said Scott, who has developed four mobile apps.

Several of the speakers at Tuesday's program encouraged students to explore what's available and not be afraid to fail.

"There are a lot of stereotypes about who's good at technology and who isn't," Freada Kapor Klein said. "Some are gender-based and some are race-based. But they all send a message about who fits and who doesn't. And that message needs to change.

"Technology is where all the good jobs are and where the future is, and we need technology to look like America."

Klein started a nonprofit organization called Level Playing Field that seeks to address disparities in several ways, including a summer camp that introduces low-income young people to tech experiences.

Kapor Capital also invests financially to help women and people of color develop their tech-related ideas.

For example, she said, they helped an African-American woman develop an app that allows a person to take a photo of herself with her phone and find a shade of makeup that matches her skin color. It resulted because the brown-skinned woman was having difficulty finding makeup that matched her color at local drugstores.

"You have to have that lived experience to invent an app that solves it," Klein said.

Powers started CODE2040 specifically to address the need for more women and people of color in technology.

She named it 2040 to mark the year that census data project people of color will be in the majority in America.

Currently, only 5% of the tech workforce is black and only 18% of the people studying computer science in American universities is black, Powers said.

Yet analysts project there will be 1.4 million new jobs in technology by 2020, she said. "One million of those jobs will go unfilled at the rate we're going," she said.

Not only will there be good jobs in technology; they will pay well, she says.

The average tech worker earns more than the median household income of a black family and Latino family combined, she said.

The answer is connecting people to opportunities and helping to assure they can be successful, which is what CODE2040 does, she said.

"Our fellows leave with the skills, experience, confidence and connections to succeed," she said.

Powers and others also said people should not fear technology or view it as something beyond them.

"Technology is in every industry," Powers said. "It's in sports, music, travel. Each of these industries relies on technology to function. They all have apps. Coding is really just a computer-related way to solve a problem."

Powers said she's honored to be recognized by Ford and the Wright museum, particularly when it also is recognizing the inventor Elijah J. McCoy as its Ford Freedom honoree.

"Elijah McCoy contributed a huge amount," she said of McCoy, the son of slaves, who has more than 60 patents to his name. "I'd like to think that one day I can have that same kind of impact."

She said that she hopes that young people feel empowered and know that technology is possible for everyone; not a select few.


Wright Ring of Genealogy inductees:

Five people will be inducted into the Wright Ring of Genealogy, the terrazzo tile creation in the center of the Wright museum with gold nameplates. The five to be inducted are: Former Michigan Secretary of State Richard Austin, the first African American elected to statewide office; Robert Hayden, America's first black poet laureate; Erma Henderson, the first African-American woman to serve on the Detroit City Council; the Rev. Charles Hill, founding pastor of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church and fair housing and labor rights activist; and radio legend Martha Jean (The Queen) Steinberg.

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Usher's New Look: Detroit Participates in #YesWeCode Hackathon at Ford STEAM lab

Last Friday and Saturday, Usher’s New Look Detroit participated in a hackathon at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center in partnership with #YesWeCode. New Look Mogul in Training, Ciarah Lee, and Leadership Academy Senior, Dante Hollis, participated by helping lead activities for middle school youth including ‘Expressions’, a New Look tradition where students step out of their comfort zone and share their talents.


In the Ford STEAM lab, 100 Detroit middle school students from five middle schools in the Detroit metropolitan area got the chance to become software designers. Youth invented a range of mobile applications to make learning easier, from catching up on missed assignments, to studying math and music through gaming – all the while earning $42,500 in awards and scholarships.

The two-day event challenged students to learn the basics of software coding, and then produce, or “hack”, an application to help them in school. Thank you FORD and #YesWeCode for continuing to invest in the future of the Detroit community, our youth!

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The Next Web: Why the next Uber could be launched by a 10-year-old


At a hackathon in Philadelphia last November, one of the best ideas came not from a professional designer, but from a nine-year-old. The boy pitched an app that combines carpooling with Uber-like capabilities, allowing a private network of families to share driving.

The idea came from the boy simply identifying a problem in his life – not being able to attend after-school clubs because, like many kids, he has two working parents – but came backed up with a solid business plan.

“It was voted best business model of the entire hackathon,” says Kwame Anku, director of strategic development at #YesWeCode, a US organisation that uses tech to target disadvantaged young people and transform their lives.

One of the judges told me: “I just invested in a company similar to what this kid is proposing, but his idea is better, and if I had had both in front of me, I would have invested in his.”

This isn’t just a fluke: apps like this are cropping up across the world, little sparks of genius dreamed up by kids who are still in school. I’ve come across virtual piggy banks, safe street-navigation tools, an app that supports LGBTQ teens and a game called Tampon Run – there’s no way a 30-year-old male developer could have come up with that.

Kids can code

A growing number of organisations are dedicated to teaching children to code and develop tech, so what we’re now seeing is children actually developing innovative, useful apps and then taking them to market. Kids under 16 are uniquely placed to launch what could be tech’s next big thing.

Their ingenuity and natural affinity with digital tech means they’re essentially sowing the seeds for the sector’s next generation of disruptive startups. And this is catching the attention of some pretty serious investors.

“Technology companies need to look at [young people coding] very seriously, not just as ‘oh we’re doing good for the community, or we’re helping people of color or disadvantaged youth to feel like they’re part of the innovation economy, but then we’ll go back to the office and do the real work’,” says Anku. “No, this is the real work. There are extraordinary business opportunities for tech companies.”

#YesWeCode held a youth hackathon in Detroit last month. “The theme was education: if you were in a position to solve a problem with the education system, what would you do?” says Anku. “You’re talking about real problems that millions of kids are facing.

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