To create an equitable tech future in our region, industry leaders must go to where the diverse talent is — and that talent is in community colleges.
Seattle’s technology industry has a diversity problem. While tech companies have publicly committed to changing their hiring practices, people of color and women are still being left out of what feels more and more like an exclusive club.
Only one in five STEM workers identify as black or Latino, and less than 25 percent of STEM jobs are held by women. With equity front and center at the recent Washington STEM Summit, we must do more than talk. We must work together — and two-year colleges are a natural partner in the effort to achieve this important goal.
As an African-American woman, it may seem odd to quote a Hall of Fame hockey player when talking about diversity. But when I consider the STEM diversity problem, I always think of Wayne Gretzky, who once said that the key to his success was that he skated to where the puck was going. To create an equitable tech future in our region, industry leaders must go to where the diverse talent is — and that talent is in community colleges.
The stakes are incredibly high. With Seattle’s ever-increasing cost of living, we need to make sure our city remains accessible to communities of color. We can best accomplish this by creating opportunities for diverse local residents to fill these positions, some of which are known to pay $120,000 a year in Seattle and offer generous benefits.
If money and resources are flowing to help diversify the field, we must ensure they are flowing to the right places. Don’t get me wrong — I am proud of the tech industry for owning up to the problem, but now they need to up their game. In short, companies must become more proactive and collaborative. This means connecting with partners who serve diverse communities. It also means rethinking the traditional path into these high-paying jobs.
To start, it makes sense to partner with two-year colleges in the Seattle area. At Seattle Central College, we are uniquely positioned to provide a way for nontraditional students — those who have not had the privilege or opportunity to go straight to college directly from high school — to train for jobs in this field. Historically, our faculty and staff have prioritized diversity across our operations. We have created programs tailored specifically to diverse students to help them enter the STEM field. As a result, our STEM programs are some of the most diverse anywhere in the state. Last year, 41 percent of our STEM students were people of color, and 40 percent of our STEM grads were women.
It is not hard to see the tremendous potential of teaming up, where colleges such as ours and tech companies work together to create cutting-edge programs that teach the skills they need, in ways that are accessible to diverse students. Working together, we can train more local workers to fill the growing number of great jobs in the technology sector, thousands of which remain unfilled. With our diverse student body, and proven record of successfully educating and training these students, we have the puck. We just need local tech companies to lace up their skates and glide on over to us.