While DC Considers Building a Wall; Silicon Valley Can Break Other Walls Down

Much has been made of whether Latinx voters were going to turn out for the midterms or how much will they show up for the presidential elections. But they may see little reason to do so. They look to Washington, D.C. as a source of aggression rather than of assistance. The recent news out of the capitol has been dismal: the vitriol from the White House about building a wall, the hostility towards immigrants spilling over into hostility towards all Latinx and other underrepresented groups, and the aggressive stance that the U.S. Department of Justice has taken to roll back affirmative action combined with the stark reality that Brett Kavanaugh was elected as a supreme court justice.

However, Latinx and African Americans can turn their hopes and their energies to the private sector, particularly to the tech world. The booming economy and surging demand for software developers, engineers, and other talent may help Latinx and African Americans finally crack into the innovation economy in numbers instead of the historic trickle. Indeed, the tight labor market will provide an acid test for Silicon Valley’s commitment to creating truly diverse and inclusive workplaces. If tech companies don’t diversify now, something is seriously wrong.

Of course, employment markets don’t always function the way many economists predict. A surge in demand might not translate into more Latinx finding high-quality jobs. It is crucial to look at the reasons why the labor market in tech might not “clear” for Latinx and to see how tech companies and their technology might help address those shortfalls.

Implicit bias exists and a host of tech companies are offering products to help companies overcome that. But implicit bias isn’t the only reason that Latinx do not connect with opportunities. Many Latinx and African Americans do not apply for plum job openings because they lack the networks and social capital that help individuals learn about career opportunities and get their foot in the interview room door. “Traditional” social media companies ought to help Latinx with the process of discovering opportunities. However, Latinx often do not use these platforms; Latinx are the least likely racial/ethnic demographic to use LinkedIn. In conducting research on this trend, many Latinx millennials have told us that they feel uncomfortable with the self-promotion they see on many career sites.

New networks, however, can help Latinx connect with one another and with mentors and job opportunities. The key: building networks that focus on community. By “community,” we mean the communities many of us grew up in, where paying it forward is more important than expressing one’s superiority.

At the same time, talent hungry tech companies should cast wider nets to recruit where talented Latinx go to school. The pipeline is there, but tech companies must look to connect beyond the same old schools that executives and senior engineers attended.

Indeed, Latinx and African Americans are less likely to apply to many top-ranked universities due to the same lack of knowledge about opportunities that keeps them from applying for plum jobs. Unaware of their chances for admission and the possibilities for financial aid, many Latinx gravitate towards state schools, which can provide a world-class education but often sit outside Silicon Valley’s recruiting circuit.

Here too, technologies might also provide a partial remedy by informing young Latinx of educational opportunities. But Silicon Valley also needs to live up to its own ethos of being less snobby about where talent comes from. Consider not just Stanford and Cal. San Jose State and Cal State have their own best and brightest.

A lack of Latinx social capital also hampers those individuals who do apply for tech and other jobs. Many talented applicants from diverse groups may need to develop more soft skills, including basic resume building and interviewing skills.

If this economic moment calls the bluff of tech companies on diversity and inclusion, it also issues a call to Latinx and African American to dream big.

The Latinx communities does need more Sonia Sotomayors and Cesar Chavezes. But we also need other kinds of heroes in a dark historical moment. The next great African American and Latinx entrepreneur and technologist can pay it forward and replace demoralization with inspiration.

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