Coding Schools Didn’t Dent Tech’s Diversity Problem. Could Boys & Girls Clubs Help?

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Bjorn Freeman-Benson is a white tech guy who wants to make tech less white, and he’s putting his hopes on Boys & Girls Clubs of America, along with the buy-in from other employers like him.

Freeman-Benson owns InVision, a digital product design company. His 200-person engineering team is overwhelmingly white and male. He says he wants a more diverse staff but doesn’t get the applicants, Bloomberg reported.

In an effort to hire a more diverse tech workforce, Freeman-Benson has teamed up with TalentPath, a new initiative from the coding school Treehouse and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, whose local chapters provide after-school programs to young people in diverse communities across the country.

In April, Freeman-Benson plans to hire two Latina engineers as full-time apprentices earning $15 an hour, plus benefits. After three months, if everyone’s still happy, they’ll be hired full-time as junior engineers at full pay.

InVision is one of three employers including Nike Inc. and MailChimp trying this approach.

TalentPath aims to get more Black, Latinx and women engineers hired by partnering with local Boys & Girls Clubs, which recruit members or alumni who might want tech jobs and also help them navigate the working world via financial literacy classes and weekly mentoring.

A participating employer sponsors students to take nine-month, part-time, online coding courses—enabling people in school or working full time to participate—and guarantees those who graduate a three-month, full-time apprenticeship on its engineering team. It can then offer them jobs.

From Bloomberg: Story by Rebecca Greenfield.

Coding schools have made a number of prior efforts to get more people of color and women into tech, although it’s difficult to gauge their success. Many coding schools, including Treehouse, offer scholarships, some aimed at promoting diversity and some created in partnership with tech companies or sponsored by the likes of Aphabet Inc.’s Google. There are also a host of coding programs for women and people of color.

Yet diversity at tech companies hasn’t budged.

Employers bear much of the responsibility. Not all of them make the effort. Bias can cloud their hiring processes. Workplace discrimination can discourage applicants and push out qualified employees.

Tech executives often blame their companies’ overwhelming whiteness on what they call the pipeline problem—a lack of qualified engineers who aren’t white men.

Even the coding schools often touted as potential solutions haven’t generally managed to recruit or retain underrepresented talent effectively. They don’t always reach people who don’t know much about tech jobs; even when they do, they might not hold much appeal, said Colleen Showalter, the liaison between Treehouse and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland and previously the chapter’s director of development.

“It’s really difficult for the minority communities we serve to have trust with organizations that just come in and say, ‘You should do this,’” she said. “They don’t look like them, and they don’t have any affinity for them.” Better boot camps won’t suffice to get young black and Latino people into tech jobs, she added. “They need support, because the barriers in their lives are real.” Some don’t have computers at home; many don’t know anyone who works in tech.

Read more at Bloomberg

 

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Bjorn Freeman-Benson. Photo: Cathy Cheney/Portland Business Journal