Why We All Need to Help Change the Ratio on Diversity in Tech

By Jessica Reeves, Vice President of Marketing, Voto Latino

It's been a few months since Google released data on its company diversity statistics. Since then, there's been a fairly steady stream of company after company having their cathartic moment in the sun, acknowledging there's a problem when it comes to tech and diversity and promising they're going to help solve it.

Then last week happened. A report by the American Institute of Economic Research revealed that Asians, blacks and Hispanics in the tech industry are paid less than their white counterparts for equal work. Although the report drew some media attention, including a USA Today story, its point was soon hijacked by an off-the-cuff comment by Microsoft CEO Natya Nadella.

Mr. Nadella said women in the tech industry should not ask for a pay raise and trust that doing so will generate "good karma" that will compensate them in the future.

Yes, he has since retracted what he said and apologized. But first he took a pummeling.

All of this served as one more sign of both the depth of this problem and, well, those who perpetuate it. AIER statistics on the pay gap prove this industry's issues with diversity are not just about growing the number of minorities working at a given company; they're also about treating those minorities as equal. Nadella's comments prove that such equality may be hard won when tech leaders don't see what's wrong with thinking this way unless the Internet yells at them.

There is no simple solution, but that doesn't excuse us from seeking one.

At Voto Latino, a national nonprofit where I work, we leverage technology to engage and empower Latino Millennials. In our ten years of existence, we've concluded that the dismal number of Latinos in high-paying STEM careers exists not due to a lack of interest, but due to a lack of access to tech tools, training and mentors.

That's one of the reasons Voto Latino, in partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, HASTAC and Google, launched the VL Innovators Challenge. The Challenge is a tech competition that will re-grant $500,000 to 10 to 15 Millennial-led tech projects.

The VL Innovators Challenge does not require previous technological experience or a college degree, and applications will be accepted through October 15, the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month. Winners of the Challenge will receive access to mentors, training and other resources to develop their tech project and learn new skills along the way. What we value most is Latino Millennials' creative tech ideas, which they will own if selected as winners.

Ultimately, we hope to build a long pipeline of diverse talent that companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and others can hire from. That's how we plan to help change the ratio - on everything from pay equality to institutional stereotypes. For more information, visit www.vlinnovators.com.