Much like other industries that dominate the American economy, the tech sector has been the subject of a fair amount of criticism due to its lack of diversity. Tech giant Google made headlines in 2014 after stats were released regarding how few African American employees they hired. As USA Today reported, “Eighty-three percent of Google’s tech workers internationally are male. For non-tech jobs, the number is 52%. Its leadership is made of up 79% men. In terms of racial diversity, the company overall is 61% White, 30% Asian, 3% Hispanic, and 2% Black.”
Bleak as these realities are, there are some glimmers of light which could point the tech industry in a new, more inclusive direction. Austin, Texas hosted this year’s annual South by Southwest Festival and some of the leading business minds, activists, and even the President of the United States – Barack Obama – were in attendance. Without a doubt, SXSW has developed a reputation for being the go-to event for those interested in keeping pace with the next frontier in our political, technological, and cultural evolution.
One of the new innovative companies making its debut at the SXSW event is Cast Beauty, “a new mobile platform that uses weather data to bring users personalized product recommendations”. Another innovative company, Siam Smartphone, is a tech company that has developed a “dual screen phone” with the capability to allow users “to use a screen on either side of the phone”. Siam Smartphone was a headliner at this year’s SXSW event. Both companies are black-owned, and both are testing the boundaries of how we experience technology.
Among the attendees at this year’s SXSW event are a number of highly ambitious and enterprising African American tech entrepreneurs. Amplify 4 Good CEO – Joey Womack, Sheena Allen Apps CEO – Sheena Allen, and Partpic CEO – Jewel Burks are just a few of the individuals at SXSW who are making an impact on how we use technology and more importantly how we understand the African American contribution to this rapidly changing industry.
Positive as these developments are, it is crucial that the entrepreneurial spirit that these companies exemplify doesn’t distract us from the responsibility of those in positions of power to put in place policies and programs to nurture this innovative drive in other young people. #YesWeCode, a far reaching initiative that, “targets low-opportunity youth and provides them with the necessary resources and tools to become world-class computer programmers,” is one shining example of the kinds of community engagement that can be pursued moving forward. There is a wellspring of talent and fresh ideas in the African American communities waiting to be activated. SXSW provides us with the outlines of what this activation would look like and the dramatic transformation it can inspire in our lives.