Rev. Jesse Jackson says that Tech Diversity is the Next Civil Rights Steps…As an African American Woman, I Disagree.

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Earlier this week it was reported that Rev. Jesse Jackson stated, “Tech Diversity is the next civil rights step.” As an African American Woman with 20+ years in the field of technology, I respectfully DISAGREE with Rev. Jackson’s opinion. As a matter of fact, I believe this type of rhetoric serves as a smokescreen and is not conducive to bridging the racial and gender technology gap. It simply takes our eyes off the prize.

Rev. Jackson’s lobbying tech companies asking them to disclose their hiring data is to be commended. However, now that the numbers have been exposed, this is an opportune time to shift the conversation.

This issue is about an empowerment movement in our African American community. A movement involving empowering us to proactively engage in the field of technology. A movement to transform technology consumers into coders.

There are STEM programs for young people in every state. Coding and Technology Classes for adults are plentiful (although some are one hit wonders with no employment opportunities tied to them…but that’s another conversation). The aforementioned being true now raises questions and shifts the conversation to how we can collectively: 1) improve community awareness and encourage active participation in technology training programs and career opportunities, 2) empower minorities to believe they can succeed in this field, 3) engage job opportunities in the right role given many aspects of technology jobs, not merely, “coding”, 4) engage committed technology employers in a conversation, which leads to hiring entry level non-traditionally, educated technology professionals.

Shifting the conversation must also involve a discussion around a full cycle program of helping successful non-tech workers re-career into the field of technology. We are missing an entire population of adults who are unemployed, underemployed or simply looking for a change. Through our Detroit based organization, Sisters Code, we call it “Awakening the Mature Geek,” and I’m living proof that it will work.

After college, I was an aspiring mortician and middle school teacher.  At the age of 25, I participated in a corporate training program where I learned to code in seven different languages in 13-weeks. My life was instantly transformed as I emerged as a mainframe programmer. I went on to become a global technology corporate executive, Deputy CIO, and Technology CEO. If I did not have my personal technology “awakening”, my life would not be what it is today.

Although my perspective is different from Rev. Jackson’s, it does not mean I don’t recognize the need for deeper engagement across our eco-system. There must be opportunity awareness in the community, identification of individuals who are interested in exploring careers in technology, training and workforce development programs with a direct link to jobs, and corporations who are committed to hiring non-traditionally educated employees.

Speaking from the experience of often being the only woman and person of color at many technology tables, the workforce technology diversity numbers aren’t shocking but I’m 100% sure we can do better.

If we are really serious about bridging the racial and gender technology gap, there must be accountability and engagement among all concerned parties.

Count me in.