Tech companies: Stop conflating privilege with potential – TechCrunch

Tech companies: Stop conflating privilege with potential – TechCrunch

Dwana Franklin-Davis is a lifelong technologist currently serving as the CEO of Reboot Representation, a coalition of tech companies pooling their philanthropic resources to double the number of Black, Latina and Native American women receiving computing degrees by 2025.

Ruthe Farmer is the founder and CEO of the Last Mile Education Fund, and a global advocate and evangelist for equity and inclusion in technology and engineering.

The number of low-income students attending college is increasing: According to a 2016 report from the Pew Research Center, the total share of undergraduate college students who come from low-income families increased from 12% in 1996 to 20% in 2016. However, only 11% of students in the bottom income quartile complete their degrees within six years, compared to 58% for those in the top quartile.

This discrepancy should make you pause. Why are so many low-income students making it to college but not to degree completion, and thus, not reaching their full potential in the workforce? One short answer encompasses the issue: a lack of unique and targeted support and resources. And, in the tech sector specifically, this lack of support stems from a problematic ecosystem that often assumes privilege and affluence in its students and future employees.

These assumptions (subconscious or not) perpetuate a tech industry that fails to access a critical and fruitful talent pool by wrongfully and consistently disqualifying low-income students from the educational and career opportunities that open doors.

It’s clear that the tech education-to-career pipeline fails low-income students before degree completion and entrance into one of the highest-paid sectors in our economy –– but we aren’t talking about it. Socioeconomic status must be part of the “diversity” conversation –– it is underreported and underdiscussed.

What does it mean to conflate privilege with potential?

Like in many industries, tech recruitment (from internships to full-time jobs) happens well before graduation. High-potential low-income students often don’t fit into the “ideal candidate” archetype sought by this recruitment structure, which overvalues and rewards characteristics that are often a better indicator of privilege than talent or potential. How does that happen, and how can we stop it?

If you ask hiring managers what skills might be necessary to succeed in the tech industry, they may say that they’re looking for new candidates who:

  • Have great problem-solving skills.
  • Have demonstrated time-management skills.
  • Are hardworking.
  • Are resilient and willing to persevere through tricky problems.
  • Are adaptable.

These skills can come from many different experiences –– for example, a student working a full- or part-time job while pursuing a technical degree gains a strong work ethic, time-management prowess and resilience. A first-generation student navigating the college experience on their own without the benefit of family knowledge or social networks likely obtains impressive problem-solving skills. Although these are subjective, they are incredibly valuable skills for succeeding in tech.

However, in recruitment practices, these demonstrated skills are rarely part of the equation and are inequitably overshadowed by things like:

Time management