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Diversity in Silicon Valley’s War for Talent

June 2, 2015

Recently, I had the honor of keynoting alongside Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and Apple VP Lisa Jackson at PUSHTech2020 Summit. The event’s theme was Diversity and Inclusion is the New Innovation.

The conference, led by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, shined a spotlight on the need to diversify Silicon Valley’s workforce.

In my remarks, I noted that something isn’t right when then the people consuming technology are not represented among the people who create and sell it. This is problematic not just because it excludes large numbers of people from participating in the tech boom’s wealth generation, but because it’s hard for companies to serve an audience with which they have no association.

I believe, however, that the exclusion of certain groups from the Valley is not the result of intentional bias; rather, it reflects, IMHO, a series of structural problems. Some of these challenges, like the need to democratize STEM education, require – and justify — massive investments of time and money by our society as a whole. Other problems, however, are easier to address, and can be justified by the business benefits they will bring, the simplest of which is the fact that better ideas come from more diverse inputs. Better ideas result in better products and increased revenue.

Although I genuinely believe Silicon Valley is a meritocracy, it’s only a meritocracy among those who participate in its ecosystems. Put simply, talented folks who are not part of the system – who are not “here” – can’t get credit for their accomplishments, nor can they recruit others into the informal networks that form the basis of Valley recruiting.

Just as water flows downhill, it’s easier for Silicon Valley to hire out of its own Rolodex. Many people go back time and time again to the same great engineers, marketers, and product people that they’ve worked with at previous companies. But there’s a huge talent pool out there that folks in the Valley haven’t met yet, and that’s our loss—particularly now, as we “wage war” for great talent.

Instead of recruiting from a small number of schools, our industry should be visiting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), public universities and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) in addition to the colleges that traditionally come to mind. If “grit”, the new buzzword determinant of success, is what we’re all looking for, where else would we most likely find it?

At PayNearMe, we are launching an internship program to recruit and train the brightest minds we can find from outside of the Valley, as well as adding diversity and inclusion to our hiring process.

As Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said, we need to approach this like an engineering problem. We might not get it 100% right the first time, but we’ll keep learning and adjusting until we do.

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