by Sharon Florentine

Silicon Valley needs to be the change

Sep 22, 2016
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The IT industry should be using its talent, money and influence to help effect social change and stand up for underrepresented and marginalized people.rn

Remember when PayPal canceled its proposed North Carolina facility in response to that state’s governor’s anti-LGBTQ bills earlier this year? Remember how hard lobbyists worked to make sure AirBnB’s room-sharing service could function?

The industry has plenty of money, influence and smarts to effect social change, and it doesn’t hesitate to use it when its best interests are at stake. The industry’s certainly making noise about its lack of diversity and many Silicon Valley heavyweights are actively trying to rectify their homogeneity. So why has Silicon Valley been deafeningly silent regarding issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement.

Just in the last week I’ve heard about Keith Lamont Scott and Terence Crutcher. New details have emerged about the death of Joyce Curnell. And there are high-profile cases such as Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland … If you really want to get a sense of the severity of the problem, check out this database on The Guardian.

If IT is really so concerned about diversity, inclusion and making the industry an employer of choice for black (and Latino/a, female and LGBTQ) professionals and start putting itself out there and throwing its weight and considerable influence behind causes that matter to these underrepresented and marginalized communities — otherwise, any conversation about the need for diversity and attempts to hire black, Latino/a and LGBTQ talent are little more than lip service.

So, what can you do? Start with empathy. Start by educating yourself about systemic and institutionalized racism (and sexism and homophobia and transphobia) in the U.S. Start by understanding what privilege is and is not, and how it affects you and your world view. And then figure out how you can educate your workforce so that when your black, Latino/a, female and LGBTQ colleagues come to work each day, they feel supported, understood and valued.

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, or that you won’t feel awkward or embarrassed at times — but don’t let that get in the way. Something has to change, and fast, and if anyone can make it happen, it’s Silicon Valley.