The lack of diversity within the US tech industry is a well-known phenomenon, which according to research has a negative impact on economy and society. In a bid to support female Latino and African-Americans enter into the tech industry, McKinsey & Company and Facebook have launched the TechPrep initiative. The project aims to support parents, teachers and children from the diversely different groups with the resources needed to provide the group with the skills needed to enter into the tech industry.
The technology industry in the US tends to be predominantly dominated by white males, and the sector has for some time been struggling with diversity within its ranks. The ethical issue is also quickly becoming an economic one. By 2020, a million open programming jobs with no one to fill them may arise in the US. Opening up the industry to a more diverse background of equally talented individuals has the potential to improve the lives of a more diverse group with stable employment opportunities, as well as fill the expected gap between supply and demand.
Achieving parity within the tech industry is however, not a straight forward process. Different barriers push out different major social groups, including women and girls, Latinos, and African-Americans. As McKinsey & Company Partner Lareina Yee remarks, “The barriers are not one-size-fits-all.”
One of the issues faced by African-Americans and Latinos particularly is that there is a general lack of awareness of computer science due to a glut in access to both people and computer science programmes. The lot for women and girls starts early, as only 24% are taking computer science at school, compared to 35% of boys. Girls and women tend to be less confident about their computer prowess; 33% of women and girls claim to be good at working with computers, compared to 50% of men and boys. “We have an enormous way to go for girls and underserved populations, but I think the awareness has improved. It’s starting to become more transparent that we don’t have a true representation of the population in these professions,” says Yee. Further issues faced by children relate to intergenerational issues. Parents often do not know how to encourage their children with regard to perusing computer science: 77% of parents say that they do not know how to help their children in this respect at all. Parents without college education or on low incomes tend to be even less encouraging to their children, the number increasing to 83% for these groups.
Given the challenges faced by the industry to improve diversity within the ranks, McKinsey & Company – with a long history of supporting diversity improvement – joined Facebook to support it in the development and launch of the company’s TechPrep initiative. The initiative aims to provide a wide range of resources specifically for different segments of those whom are underserved. The initiative targets parents, teachers and children, providing them with the resources they need through an online platform. The TechPrep website features resources, profiles, and videos in English and Spanish to spark interest, inform, and inspire.
The development of the programme took several months and had a team from McKinsey – led by Susan Colby, James Manyika, Helen Ma, Kelsey Robinson, and Lareina Yee – work with a team from Facebook. The team researched ways in which they can improve the talent pipeline of young people of the disadvantaged groups and women in tech, by bringing together members with expertise in social-science research, consumer marketing, user experience, technology, and education. “The lack of diversity in most tech organisations—and many organisations in general—means that we’re not getting the benefit of the full talent pool. And for these young people, the opportunities that careers in tech bring are tremendous,” says Colby.
“Many of us are parents who are trying to encourage our kids too. Even though I’m in this field, I learned a ton,” explains Yee. She reflects that the insight gleaned from the team’s research into Minecraft, which can be seen as an implicit programming training for children, was a happy surprise. Robinson also found the process insightful, remarking that, “I never even considered computer science as a career, so it’s been really interesting to think about why I didn’t pursue it. Others on the team with technical backgrounds felt a personal commitment to this cause. I think this is one of the most meaningful projects that the team has done.”
The team has wider goals than just the current initiative, and while the firm will continue to support Facebook, Manyika explains that “The research is not exclusive to Facebook. In fact from day one the goal has been to create an open platform and pipeline (hence the age range) that benefits the sector as a whole and society at large. So colleagues are encouraged to draw on this research and leverage it with their own clients and others in the tech community.”
Female advancement in business
Last month McKinsey launched another initiative aimed at advancing the position of women, named 'Next Generation Women Leaders Award’, which provides talented women in Europe, the Middle East and Africa the opportunity to apply for a scholarship programme. The firm has for years shed light on the cost of unequal employment opportunities to society – according to its latest report parity with men could add up to $28 trillion extra to world GDP by 2025, with a more achievable ‘best-in-region’ practice likely to add $12 trillion.
When it comes to specifically tech skills, other consulting firms too are providing an active contribution to closing the skills and opportunity gap. Accenture, for instance, supports both the Girl Geeks Campus as well as the Girls Who Code, and last week globally embraced the Hour of Code campaign.