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Aspen Roundtable on Latino Tech Talent

I participated in a convention bringing together leaders in workforce development and technology sectors to examine multiple topics in the tech sector.

On Thursday, April 1st, I participated in a roundtable on Latino Tech Talent on behalf of the Aspen Institute Latinos, Society Program (AILAS) and Aspen Digital.

The virtual convening brought together a small group of thought leaders and practitioners in the technology and workforce development ecosystem to identify the needs, benefits, and expansion of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within the tech sector.

Participants explored the trends in the digitalization of work that are shaping how organizations are assessing future talent.

The conversation captured from this and subsequent roundtables informed the development of a publication outlining both needs and solutions that could lead to increased hiring and retention of Latinos in the tech space.

Introduction

I’m the Executive Director of Techqueria, a 501c3 nonprofit that serves the largest global community of Latinx professionals in tech with over 14,000 members and allies. Our mission is to empower Latinx in tech with the resources and support needed to thrive and become leaders in the tech industry.

I supervise and manage day-to-day operations with the support of 5 staff members. Techqueria increased our funding by 241% to nearly $250K, and our number of members doubled from about 5,000 to 10,000 members.

And despite industry norms, we have overall gendered parity in our members, with 50% identifying as using she/her pronouns. Most of our members are mid to senior-level millennials, work in product, design, or engineering roles with about 5 1/2 years of experience on average, and heard about Techqueria through word of mouth.

I am so excited to participate in this panel to share why we need more numbers like these.

Outside of Techqueria, I’m also a board member of Coro Northern California, Code Nation’s Bay Area Leadership Council and the Latino Community Foundation’s Giving Circle for Latinos in Tech. My mom and dad grew up in Piura and Lima, respectively. I am a proud Peruvian American.

The tech sector is failing Latinos

It’s important to realize that Latinos are the largest minority group and the largest non-white voting group. It is projected we will be 1/3 of the U.S. population by 2060.

And the U.S. is the largest tech market globally, representing 33% of the total, or approximately $1.6 trillion for 2021. In the U.S. and many other countries, the tech sector accounts for a significant portion of economic activity. Like Jennifer alluded to, I don’t think many Latino parents realize that if you can enter tech, you can quickly generate a lot of wealth faster than in other industries like medicine or law. It is also the sector we are most dependent on now with the pandemic.

“We are not fairly represented in this sector, and that is due to us not being set up for success throughout the leaky tech pipeline.” 

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Latinos in tech are represented in single digits at the leadership level and even at the individual contributor level.

According to Monica, a digital divide has been made more evident because of COVID-19. Most Latino kids growing up don’t have access to C.S. education, computers, or even decent Wi-Fi (C.S. education is not mandatory, and it should be, just like history and biology are). The lack of education affects awareness of tech as a viable career option, which involves social capital if they decide to pursue it.

But studies show Latinos are some of the fastest adopters of new technologies as we over-index on the use of smartphones and social media, and they’re more likely than their peers to own the latest smartphone or tech gadget.

There is a lot of opportunity for improvement, given there are low numbers in the tech workforce and an increasing interest in tech.

As Sylvia alluded to, right now, young Latinos don’t see themselves represented as creators but are consuming a lot of content fueled by these tech companies.

“Often more than not, the only time Latinos are represented in double digits at tech companies is when you are looking at the blue-collar service workers. They help maintain the offices and face uncertainty because of the new way we work now.”

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I think it would help a lot to have the media work to represent Latinos in more of these roles so that social values change to motivate more young Latinos to pursue careers in tech.

I think it would help a lot to have the media work to represent Latinos in more of these roles so that social values change to motivate more young Latinos to pursue careers in tech.

The issue

Most Latino kids growing up don’t have access to CS education, computers, or good Wi-Fi, which affects awareness of the tech as a viable career option, involving social capital if they decide to pursue it.

Let’s say a young Latino man – let’s call him Alejandro, the child of migrant farmworkers, is very bright and discovers he enjoys coding by luck at his local state university. And let’s say he overcomes all obstacles and graduates with a degree in CS, which is hard to do. Even as he graduates, he still lacks a solid community support system. He doesn’t have much internship experience because he had to help his parents over the summer. Nobody in his extended network beyond his college friends has any knowledge about CS or knows anyone in the industry.

Between 70 and 85 percent of jobs are found through networking. That may come naturally for people – that may come naturally for people from a family of professionals or who went to prestigious colleges. By the time they enter the workforce, some young adults already have extensive networks and lots of social capital to help them find jobs, even with limited work experience. But young Latinx adults often face a social capital gap. Without access to the same networks and connections, it can be harder to find a full-time job, even with the necessary education and skills. As a result, many young adults end up underemployed, working in jobs they are overqualified for, and working fewer hours a week than they need to. And research shows that being underemployed can have lasting effects.

As the largest community of Latinx in Tech in the US, Techqueria’s mission is to provide Latinx professionals with the resources and support they need to thrive and become leaders in the tech industry. Eventually, to become the most powerful and robust professional network of Latinx professionals in the tech industry worldwide, we are very much trying to be part of the solution there.

Are non-traditional forms of education, such as apprenticeships and certificates, a more viable path to accessing the tech pipeline? 

Back in the good old days of the Middle Ages, apprenticeships were quite common and acted as legal contracts between the apprentice and master. The apprentices were able to learn the necessary skills in their field and eventually become masters themselves.

Through an apprenticeship, a person without these traditional credentials can prove that they belong in the tech industry. They don’t have to dig themselves into debt to be part of the growing digital economy. And, they have a structured path through which they can measure their progress and leverage their skills to grow a career.

So the benefit of a technology apprentice program to the apprentice is the same benefit given to apprentices from the Middle Ages or Renaissance-era — a chance for a job in a field.

In the current system we have, we’ve created barriers each step of the way that prevents many Latinos from getting four-year CS degrees. Most entry-level developer positions still require a four-year computer science degree. Some require extra work experience on top of that. However, none of this is necessary or indicative of hiring someone with the aptitude to become a great developer.

Through an apprenticeship, a person without these traditional credentials can prove that they belong in the tech industry. They don’t have to dig themselves into debt to be part of the growing digital economy. And, they have a structured path through which they can measure their progress and leverage their skills to grow a career.

The number of American apprentices has increased from 375,000 in 2014 to 500,000 in 2016. The federal government intends to see 750,000 by 2019, mainly by expanding the apprenticeship model to include roles in information technology.

How do pathways vary for entrepreneurs or contractors of color in accessing the digital economy? What is needed to ensure equity?

Undocumented professionals in tech can get paid as independent contractor workers. However, contractors are usually treated as second-class citizens within large tech companies, so if you’re undocumented, it’s also like you’re a third-class citizen. To ensure equity, companies need to remove this caste-like system, so independent contractors are treated more fairly, which will help many Latinx in tech who identify as undocumented.

To what extent should social values alignment across business practices and technology offerings play in determining pathways for the tech sector’s engagement with Latino communities?

We need to change the social values of young Latinos to see themselves not just as consumers but as creators. Looking at the numbers, we clearly understand why it is essential to engage and align on this precisely.

Let’s table social values for a second and just look at the numbers.

By 2060, 1/3 of the U.S. population estimates to be Latino. We are already the largest minority group and the largest non-white voting group.

Studies show Latinos are some of the fastest adopters of new technologies as we over-index on the use of smartphones and social media, and they’re more likely than their peers to own the latest smartphone or tech gadget.

Now, if we look at the tech industry, the United States is the largest tech market in the world, representing 33% of the total, or approximately $1.6 trillion for 2021. In the U.S. and many other countries, the tech sector accounts for a significant portion of economic activity. If you can enter tech, you can quickly generate a lot of wealth faster than in other industries like medicine or law.

However, when you look at the intersection of Latinos in tech, we are represented in single digits in leadership and even at the individual contributor level. Often more than not, the only time Latinos are represented in double digits at tech companies is when you are looking at the blue-collar service workers. They help maintain the offices and face uncertainty because of the new way we work now.

Right now, young Latinos don’t see themselves represented as creators but are consuming a lot of content fueled by these tech companies. I think it would help a lot to have the media work to represent Latinos in tech roles so that social values change to motivate more young Latinos to pursue careers in tech.

What are the best practices and critical steps the tech industry can take to engage better, support, and represent Latino communities?

  1. Make recruiting pipeline more inclusive – offer apprenticeship program, require that at a minimum percentage of candidates are URM
  2. Provide incentives to C-suite leaders for recruiting diverse talent
  3. Make sure there are ERGs or support systems in place for retention
  4. Meet Latinos where they are already by partnering and supporting the Latino communities and organizations like the ones represented here
  5. Maybe you hire a lot of Latinos, but they leave within one year because they don’t feel supported, so it’s vital to keep track of all this progress when it comes to recruiting and retention and commit to improving it over time with a transparent diversity report on an annual basis

Invitation to Aspen Roundtable on Latino Tech Talent

References