Uche Nnadi poses for a portrait.

One stereotype of the tech industry looms large — that it is filled with hoodie-wearing, 20-something white males. Indeed, African Americans make up only 1 percent of the workforce at Facebook, Yahoo, Airbnb, and Google. That “tech bro” stereotype and the statistics that support it were partly what motivated photographer Helena Price to start “The Techies Project.” The website features portraits of workers underrepresented in the tech sector: racial minorities, women, people aged 50 years or older and those without a college degree. In this hour, we’ll talk to Price and several other tech workers about their experiences being minorities in the industry and hear their thoughts on how tech can solve its diversity problem.

Images from The Techies Project

‘The Techies Project’ Reveals Different Faces of the Tech Industry 6 January,2017Mina Kim

Guests:
Helena Price, photographer; creator, The Techies Project
Natasha Vianna, co-founder, No Teen Shame; community lead, Honor
Ricky Yean, founder, PRX.co
Erica Baker , co-founder, Project Include; senior engineer, Slack Technologies

  • jakeleone

    The real problem is that most tech jobs are contracts. With that in mind, most tech hiring occurs as a method of sand-bagging and doing favors. And that’s why certain groups are doing well, they hire their friends and forget about considering anyone else.

    Being in a long-term government job (with a pension) is far more preferable than a short-term job at a start-up

    So I have to ask, are not women and minorities, in fact, far better off in government or medical professions than some uncertain computer- or web- tech job?

    • tom_merle

      Absolutely. Just look at the workforce in City Hall where there is little accountability and what amounts to defacto tenure. The cowboys in the tech and finance industries take a contracy approach to getting jobs filled. Forget diversity in either setting. And the flip side, as pointed out: non nerds seek out the low risk sectors as expected. Don’t blame HR in either domains.

  • Another Mike

    Diversity in most tech companies amounts to a rainbow nerd coalition. People who need human contact during the day are seen as weirdos.

    • Kevin Skipper

      Yep, and people with real confidence, social skills and active faculties of healthy skepticism, doubt and practical experience are illustrated as a threat. Kind of like a safety feature to make sure the Borg only eats those intended for mass consumption. I can’t complain.

    • Another Mike

      Put it this way: if you have the “right” personality type, you will thrive in tech, despite age, gender, color, etc.

      • Kevin Skipper

        To some, this personality type is “Automaton.” To others, it’s “task oriented team-player. Potato, Pota’to. Either way, its all Greek to me. True rebels dont wait for a seat. we make room. If the environment isn’t ready for us, we must be willing to fight and make it so. Nothing new.

  • Robert Thomas

    What does a public relations services company peculiarly have to do with businesses in our South Bay region engaged in technological advance?

    • Kevin Skipper

      Without P.R. firms, how else could Silicon Valley so rapidly shed its association with East Palo Alto, gang wars, crack, and institutional racism? The tech industry owes EVERYTHING to P.R., immigrants and social amnesia….

      • Kevin Skipper

        And neo-Nazi’s.

      • Robert Thomas

        No.

        • Kevin Skipper

          With all (much) due respect, I wasn’t asking a yes or no question. Without P.R., then tell me, How?

          • Robert Thomas

            I was addressing the assertion in your second sentence.

            Having been born, raised, educated and since the 1970s, employed in Silicon Valley, I also do not recognise that the region has some particular, peculiar connection of any sort with gang wars or crack or institutional racism.

          • Kevin Skipper

            Okay. Then what was the big ado about the homicide rate in E.P.A as it related to a national debate about zero-tolerance policing and prison policies in the low-income minority communities. I’m 36 and I recall the news stories from the early ’90’s. I know you’ve been around for a while. What’s your take on the decade-long rebranding that allowed for all 3 tech/.com ‘booms’ that have corresponded to patterns of increased housing costs and decreased diversity and well as consistently lower pay for skilled immigrants?

          • Robert Thomas

            These are legitimate questions and its a big subject, to which I’m unequal.

            Note that I didn’t write that there were no aspects of the travail of African American communities especially during the periods you mention which confronted our technology industry here; I wrote that such aspects weren’t particular or peculiar, alongside those of any other locale or industry.

            I guess though, that that’s not really true. East Palo Alto is a little peculiar.

            Ravenswood (as my parents would have called it) in fact does have a somewhat unusual relationship to its neighboring communities. Most growth in the African American population in California, as I’m sure you’re aware, was due to WWII and the Second Great Migration – skilled labor relocating in support of the war effort in the docklands of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Richmond and Oakland. In contrast – and I have never researched this, or anything – Ravenswood was an earlier established community (1850s) that coalesced first around the Southern Pacific corridor that served the San Mateo County “country” estates, in Woodside, Atherton, Burlingame, Belmont and so forth, of gold rush wealthy San Franciscans and eventually also patricians of Stanford University. Carolands Chateau in Woodside was from 1916 the home of Harriett Pullman Carolan, daughter of George Pullman, who had settled there earlier. Rail workers from across the nation came for jobs on the peninsula and the area of East Palo Alto in San Mateo County became home to many domestic servants and related workers employed up El Camino Real, to SF.

            In this sense, the decidedly middle-class base of what became Silicon Valley had little connection with the demand for domestic labor that Ravenswood became established to exploit.

          • Kevin Skipper

            Ha!
            “…to which I am unequal”?
            Give yourself a bit more credit. Seems like what you’re describing is the PR campaign that is responsible for driving the growth of the whole nation. Opportunity. Like the Gold Rush, growth is based less in reality than in a conglomeration of dreamer stories propagated through no other manner than the mass media.

  • Kevin Skipper

    I appreciate this approach to addressing what is, to some degree a systematic issue (no tech pun intended).

    I would be careful though, not to skirt the more central issue in Silicon Valley. For minorities, access to jobs is one thing. In an industry where fortunes are made on innovation, access to capital, funding, and advising are often another thing entirely. Another commenter asks if minorities are not better off in ‘more secure’ roles where pay is steady and growth opportunities can be more scarce. This is an example of the manner in which mediocrity is so insidiously mixed into any formula claiming to offer opportunity to underrepresented peoples.

    The fact is, the tech industry is another branch of the corporate mass media. A set of industries which are, themselves, centuries-old constructs employed in the task of maintaining the very same inequalities and polarities upon which this society, its laws and its ongoing practices are built. As in Hollywood and television, minority opportunity in tech will continue to reflect the limited role that non-white, non-males play in more popular stories and plots. Supporting roles. Minstrels. Coons. Mammies. Clowns. Charitably saved hottentots and other exceptions to the general rule that minority talent is best used under token status. The presence of Asians in tech supports the idea of certain minority groups occupying a “model minority’ role in which, despite superior talent and dedication even they are more likely to be relegated to roles that support and appeal to the comforts of those who still represent the traditional patriarchal leadership model.

    Worth noting that every time these initiatives are mentioned, they are said to benefit, in this order: Immigrants, Queers, Women and People of Color. “Black Male” is often loosely implied but is rarely, if ever, mentioned outright.

    In fact, it seems that much of this tech push has been in the interest of telling the same narrative of Black/Male as Superpredator, Disenfranchized, Desperate, and Defenseless. Effectively repressing critical thought, these stories coalesce to illustrate one of the most outwardly racist periods Amerika has seen since the 1950’s, let alone the ’60’s…

  • Another Mike

    I’d rather see my ideas propagate than get credit for them.

    • Kevin Skipper

      In that case, may I interest you in becoming Black? You get to build a whole civilization and have all the credit given to a 500 year-old Teutonic “Empire!”
      Imagine the thrill of walking through N.Y. Baltimore, D.C. Atlanta, Atlanta AGAIN, S.F., L.A., Detroit, Chicago, and New Orleans and knowing for a FACT that your fathers not only designed, built and maintained these cities from their very infancy, but had the good fortune to do it for free, knowing that they and their descendants would NEVER be repaid! If you’re not already, I encourage you, Go Black. Bet you’ll go right back…

      • Fielding Mellish

        Yes … they were taken advantage of because they were so smart. Good one.

        • Kevin Skipper

          Hilarious, in fact.

          Even funnier is the attempt by liberal education to rebrand social, technological and educational history in complete and total whiteface. An epic minstrel act.

          • Fielding Mellish

            ok ..double down. I’m not too sure how a “whitefaced” culture could be allowed to commit this minstrel act while “the fathers of the whole civilization” sit by. It doesn’t add up … but maybe I’m not reading the same “facts” you are.

          • Kevin Skipper

            I’m inviting you based on your sheer frankness.

            My reference to history being painted in whiteface is supported by your reaction to it. You or anyone else is unable to factually refute my assertion. In fact, somewhere in your mind, you probably know it’s true but no matter, you just can’t imagine that there might be something missing.

            I could attempt run down my views in the subject but I’d have to admit that I still have much to learn on the subject. Besides, with interpretations being what they are, it’s all pretty subjective.

            Let’s start with a key word quiz for diagnostic purposes. How many of the following words to you know?

            Egypt
            Khemet
            Levantine
            Chaldean
            Hittite
            Babylonian
            Is’ra’el vs. Israel vs. Israeli vs. Israelite
            Amerindian
            Arawak
            Kali
            Tantra
            Yoga
            Ma’am
            Siam
            Sami
            Bavarian
            Rhine Valley
            Black Forest
            Black Sea
            Black Russian
            Black Irish
            Black German
            Black Danish
            Black Dutch
            Europe
            Renaissance
            Medici
            Medicine
            Medina
            ….
            I can go on.

          • Fielding Mellish

            .. Seems you’re having difficulty understanding what I’m trying to say. Forgive me, I’m not quit as verbose as you. Please re-read my previous post, it’s pretty clear as to why what you’re asserting is HIGHLY illogical and quit frankly coming from an insecure perspective.

          • Kevin Skipper

            There was a typo. Changed “inviting” to “upvoting.”

            If what I’m asserting is illogical then you should have no trouble offering a simple rebuttal.

            I take it you’re familiar with the basic list of terms and their classical connecting points ?

          • Fielding Mellish

            “Simple rebuttal” = look around you. You’re on one hand stating how one culture built everything but somehow isn’t controlling it and coming up with every concocted reason as to why not. If you want to be racist .. I’m playin.

          • Kevin Skipper

            Lol. Sigh. This is pretty hilarious.

            I didn’t say that one culture built our civilization.

            I said that our countries cities were physically designed and built by not only black laborers but black planners, engineers and architects. It was a facetious response to Robert Thomas, a regular commenter who is guaranteed never to take the keyed-up satirically absurd tone that I enjoy using in stuffy academic settings.

            I could have responded in a more concise manner but I find it impossible to forgo the pleasure of lampooning this whole process of “open discourse” and consensus building .

          • Fielding Mellish

            “interest you in becoming Black? You get to build a whole civilization and have all the credit given to a 500 year-old Teutonic “Empire!”

            I can’t imagine any other poster stating something similar and not be lampooned. The hypocrisy, please….

          • Kevin Skipper

            Lampooned? Moi? That’d be the day.

            ‘Credit Given’ refers to the horrendously slanted manner in which certain social agendae have literally misshapen the present mainstream view of our common (and sometimes diverging) historical sojourn.

            Again, notice that you’re the only one attempting to lampoon what was already a purposefully hyperbolic, overly ironic comment? Not that you’re doing a bad job. I just assume everyone else, including the person I was addressing, got my offbeat context and took the joke.

          • Kevin Skipper

            Tell me, what facts ARE you reading?

          • Kevin Skipper

            I’m realizing that you pose a question that I meandered past without addressing … As for “how a white faced culture could be allowed,” I’d clarify that I’m not saying that it’s a culture of physically white-faced people. I’m saying that the face of history has been haphazardly painted or masked as white, male, featureless, disjointed and devoid.
            To say “allowed” suggests a social darwinist, unilateral model of aggression in the face of unfortunate victimhood. I’d say instead that the actual events and those involved are more nuanced and colorful. The only thing black and white about our society and its history is the present narrative.

          • Fielding Mellish

            I’m a big fan of Darwin…

          • Kevin Skipper

            So am I, scientifically. It should be noted that Darwin’s theories were not about evolution but natural selection in the formation of species. Darwin was a natural philosopher, not a sociologist. He would likely be appalled at the prospect of a future in which the majority of intellect has been replaced with passive corporate and private social programming by way of personalized channels in a massive electronic network.

            Contrivance of the fittest?

          • Fielding Mellish

            “Darwin’s theories were not about evolution but natural selection” … I stopped there. More words DONT equal more content.

          • Kevin Skipper

            Ouch.

            True.

          • Fielding Mellish

            Sorry .. my boss has been all over me today. Wish we could continue this over a beer.

  • Kevin Skipper

    It’s an advantage to be a WOMAN of color in tech. For men, its an advantage to be an IMMIGRANT of color but only as compared to opportunities available to American-born P.O.C.’s. For both, it seems to REALLY help if one identifies as queer or otherwise ‘non-sis.’ It’s all about available roles.

    • Kevin Skipper

      I might add that none of these aspects discounts the universal condition of ALL professionals, especially those working in media and communications. Highly competitive, volatile and unstable it creates they create or enhance polarities and stressors that create what is commonly defined as innovation and market urgency. Perhaps this pretext is what underlies this idea of exceptionalism. A suggestive term to color the interior view from within a fictitiously inflated economic and moral marketplace. Science and business, while they emoloy practical and scientific concepts, prove to be mere modifications of a dogmatic, social priesthood. This fact illuminates the fact that our well-lit, transparent society is transposed against a more shadowy topography of veiled, usually cooperating interests of power.

  • Robert Thomas

    The health-care industrial complex is one of the premier employers in the City and County of San Francisco, including among them UCSF and other institutions prominent there.

    The nation’s medical professions are among the least ethnically diverse and least gender diverse of any that exist.

    The Journal of Higher Education recently published a report revealing a

    “17% decline (from 18.5% to 15.3%) in the first-time matriculation of medical school students who are underrepresented students of color.”

    “Racial Diversity in the Medical Profession: The Impact of Affirmative Action Bans on Underrepresented Student of Color Matriculation in Medical Schools”
    Garces, Mickey-Pabello
    Volume 86, Number 2, March/April 2015
    pp. 264-294
    http://muse.jhu.edu/article/572547

    How is it that issues of diversity in the “tech industry” have so very prominently occupied hours of programming on KQED for several years, while the same demographic issues in health care are completely and utterly ignored?

    • Kevin Skipper
    • Kevin Skipper

      Swap one for the other. Employ a nominal investment in token diversity in order enable the continuance of policies that encourage inequality/social insolubility/profits. Patriarchy in its newly-refined form.

      The savvy player (R. Thomas, M. Krasny, K. Skipper, R. Yean and E. Baker) seeks to utilize the opportunities presented in this equation, realizing that experience as something other than a millenial tech-consumer allows one to capitalize of other real-world skills that make real innovation, analysis and competition possible.

      • Robert Thomas

        My suspicion is that a more prosaic social phenomenon is at work.

        The new intimate relations between members of the media and of the journalist class and their mobile communications devices, that ensnare nearly complete cognitive occupation for these individuals, have induced an accelerated preoccupation with cartoon fantasies and fictional accounts of the seventy-year-old signature industries of the South Bay Area region. We’ve seen this sort of thing before, such as during the era of the emergence of the western penny dreadfuls and dime novels – that promoted, fictionalized and romanticized the careers of the Earp brothers and Bat Masterson et al., et al. – from the 1870s into the early twentieth century. The level of understanding that modern media centers and journalists have of the technological engine they perceive in their palm is lesser, even, than was that that the pulp writer or editor in New York or Chicago had of events and customs and the society of the Old (then, obviously, “newer”) West, a hundred twenty-five years ago.

        In particular, an acute phenomenon is that precipitated by the rise over the last forty years of the nation’s schools of communications, of which the Departments of Journalism are always the poor relation. The premier departments within these institutions are – surprise – advertising; marketing; and public relations. It’s not a coincidence that soap opera entertainment and popular television has so often been situated within the worlds of P.R. and advertising (Bewitched; Melrose Place; Mad Men; Entourage etc., etc.) when ruthlessness and affluence are called for; and somewhat more rarely journalism (The Mary Tyler Moore Show; Lou Grant; WKRP in Cincinnati; Ugly Betty; 30 Rock etc.) when more working class office work is to be depicted.

        The unanticipated, acute collision of which I speak is the one set up by a journalist’s observation of workers who appear to do little else but sit and tap at a keyboard all the work day and who yet seem to pull down double the salary, or more, for engaging in the same activity at which the journalist (or screenwriter) perceives himself or herself to be occupied. This misperception has generated among the media class a toxic stew of resentment, reverence, amusement, envy, fascination and hatred. Combine this with politicians enthralled by the fantasy of a voting underclass poised to be raised to affluence merely through teaching fourth grade kids to “code”. The resulting carousel of nonsense spins completely off its bearings, threatening to grind unsuspecting bystanders along the fun-way into economic and cultural hamburger.

        The striking difference between the way physicians have been depicted in melodrama and the way engineers are now portrayed is the inevitable result of the much more formidable and long-lived public relations efforts of the former group, when measured in any way against the meager efforts of the latter.

        This same difference in attitude is the likely reason for KQED’s unswerving spotlight directed forty miles south, away from the medical sector in its midst which long ago ensconced itself – a well organized fraternity of technicians disguised as a consecrated priesthood – critically unassailable no matter how thoroughly it has enjoyed its two centuries long wallow in utterly ossified ethnic and gender elitism.

        • Kevin Skipper

          Well then. There we have it. I must say, you take a shockingly conspiratorial slant with which I, unsurprisingly completely agree.
          I have always loved and shows and movies in which the media examines itself, both from the inside and out. Californication, Bojack Horseman, Arrested Development, and, to a degree The Big Lebowski are Hollywood stories set in Hollywood, depicting the interactions between characters that live and work therein. Issues of access, exploitation, projections log success and the pervading superficialities of post-modern ‘relationship’ make for some of the most original and comedically dense material that I have seen in a long time.

          Remember News Radio? What about “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose?” and “Herman’s Head (conceptual predecessor to Seinfeld)?

  • Another Mike

    Hah, non-nerds trying to get to know nerds better. The nerds will see this as a pointless waste of time perpetrated by the “touchy feely” types.

    • Kevin Skipper

      If all goes according to plan, soon, we’ll be 99% nerd. Touching only interface devices. Feeling nothing.

  • BDN

    Boring. The sky is blue. Looking back you’ll all be embarrassed by your insights, comments, and reflections. And one of you on the panel no offense intended has a real bad case of up Speak.

    • Kevin Skipper

      Guilty as charged. Blame Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey. ;D

    • Kevin Skipper

      Hoping that if I scream loud enough, I’ll incite a worthy rebuttal….

      ***whistling ‘Dixie’***

      • Kevin Skipper

        Disclaimer: That last comment was meant for everyone except R. Thomas and often, Another Mike.

    • Kevin Skipper

      oh, you were talking about a panel member. I knew that.

  • Robert Thomas

    “I’ve been employed in the ‘tech’ industry for two years and here’s my insightful observation.”

  • tom_merle

    The sensible and articulate comments to this article dramatize how out of touch KQED is with their thinking members. Just tired regurgitation of latte liberal cant, mostly due to the bias in the journalism and media field as noted. Pointing out reality falls on deaf ears. Or see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil–evil being the competitive marketplace.

  • Hillary Clintub

    Some people would argue that photosynthesis is racist and demand that the government do something about it.

    • Kevin Skipper

      How can I join The Struggle?

      • Hillary Clintub

        LOL

Host

Mina Kim

Mina Kim is KQED News’ evening anchor and the Friday host of Forum. She reports on a wide range of issues affecting the Bay Area and interviews newsmakers, local leaders and innovators.

Mina started her career in public radio at KQED as an intern with Pacific Time. When the station began expanding its local news coverage in 2010, she became a general assignment reporter, then health reporter for The California Report. Mina’s award-winning stories have included on-the-scene reporting of the 2014 Napa earthquake and a series on gun violence in Oakland.

Her work has been recognized by the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association.

Mina grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Oak Park, CA. She lives in Napa.

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