The marginalization, as well as inequitable and inhumane treatment of people of color, is a broken record in this country. It is baked into our nation’s systems, policies, and laws. I am inspired and encouraged by the unified uprising across the nation and around the world in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others that are leading to police reform and a commitment from companies large and small to open dialogue and have the uncomfortable conversations that could lead to a change in corporate culture.
As a Black tech founder, I believe my industry must play a role in this change as well. We also have the opportunity to go beyond simply updating company cultures and HR practices. For many communities of color, technology has been a tool of oppression — but technology can also be a solution that is used for good. It’s time to do that.
I believe we can change perspectives and help our fellow neighbors see that the tech innovations we use to automate trading on the market, build the next viral game, help track and contain COVID-19, can also be used to eradicate the historic and systemic disease of racism that lingers in our country.
Technology can serve as an accelerator for change. In most cases, civic and community leaders will debate the needs and challenges that have afflicted communities for years, sometimes decades, with little movement towards identifying sustainable solutions. The agility of technology can help communities realize solutions more expeditiously.
Here are some recent examples of tech-driven change:
- In Baltimore, a coalition of more than 50 companies and non-profits have joined forces to address digital inequity. They now collect, refurbish and distribute devices, and ensure that all communities have access to WiFi. A digital divide has existed for years, but COVID-19 and remote learning made it an imperative that we solve this issue immediately.
- When California legalized marijuana, it also created a pathway for people to clear many criminal records that were once associated with marijuana possession or sale. However, a disproportionate number of Black and Latino people didn’t have access to that system — meaning their records were still a barrier to work, education, and housing. The nonprofit organization Code for America aims to fix that. A pilot program it launched in partnership with the California government uses technology to automatically clear people’s records.
- Globally, tech companies are thinking about ways they can use technology for good. HACK Baltimore, a movement in Baltimore that brings technologists together with local stakeholders, recently created a system using the Airtable platform to track inventory, areas of need and project completions for non-profit Dent Education, which is training Baltimore City students to create PPE. A similar international program, Call for Code, is an annual competition in partnership with IBM that invites software developers to solve a specific humanitarian challenge.
- In 2019, 16 agile digital services firms joined forces to create the Digital Services Coalition. Its mission is to bring innovation and agility to government IT contracting. The coalition aims to break through traditional barriers in the public sector and foster collaboration to implement more agility to drive transparency, efficiency and modernization of legacy systems.
Technology can help communities and leaders think differently. If that’s done collaboratively, technology can also improve the user experience to create solutions with communities — not for them. Technologists can help translate challenges into solutions, and use discovery, design thinking, automation, and other tools to improve life for marginalized communities. When all of this is built into their missions, companies can make a difference for their communities without sacrificing revenue. In fact, a greater commitment to corporate citizenship will drive talent retention and recruitment — and the more diverse a company’s talent pool is, the greater potential a company has for expanding its impact.
I’m a big believer in the power of technology. We can build applications that can scale to reach millions of people across the world. We architect self-healing systems. We’ve sent people to the moon — the moon! But we can’t figure out how to use technology to solve some of our country’s deeply-rooted challenges? It’s not a lack of intelligence or ability. It’s a lack of effort.
It’s time for tech to have its own uprising. We need to commit to breaking down barriers that keep our industry siloed from the community. In this way we will help grow the pipeline of tech talent and entrepreneurs, and do our most important work.