Innovation, Tech

Lattes & Learning

Welcome to fall in New England–a time for pumpkin-spice lattes and a renewed focus on learning for the kids in our lives. So let’s talk for a minute about that (learning, that is, not the PSL–ugh, sorry, not a fan).

I’m a veteran (maybe ‘relic’ is more appropriate?) of the greater Boston tech scene, and I enjoy being part of this creative community. I credit this powerhouse economic sector with giving me opportunities to build my skills and good fortune, both financially and otherwise. Having hired hundreds of people in various roles over the years, I’m also proud of what we contribute to the economy of this state, and the chances we provide for people to grow and prosper.

That said, too many people still don’t get that shot. We know the value of diversely staffed companies: they’re not only more just, but more creative and more successful. But we have a long way to go on that journey: fewer than 5% of our sector’s workers are Black; fewer than 7% are Latino. The reason those figures are so low has everything to do with systemic inequities that create barriers to exposure and opportunity.

Good STEM education in our high schools is key, right? Gives us the expanded workforce we’ll need as the sector grows, and helps our companies address that imbalance. Yet, kids lose interest in STEM much earlier: in middle school. This is especially true for marginalized kids–it’s incredibly difficult to be interested in something you have no access to.

I’m grateful to be involved with a remarkable school organization in Boston called UP Education Network. Its three schools, operated for the Boston Public School district, support 1400 students in grades K-8, who are 98% of color, 86% economically disadvantaged–but 100% remarkable.

UP is moving to a richer, STEM-based, immersive experience for its students. That’s because building exposure to STEM well before high school–in the K-8 grades–is critical. Kids need to be able to see themselves as potential ‘techies’ as readily as they can imagine themselves as celebrities or athletes. Earlier exposure to STEM helps build the foundational thinking skills that set students up for success in tech-oriented work in high school and beyond.

That’s key to getting them up the economic ladder. The average STEM worker salary is $100,900, while the average median income in Dorchester, where many of UP’s students live, is $47,200.

Here’s something that seems obvious: Schools that serve kids from historically marginalized, underserved communities with high concentrations of poverty should be the very best schools that exist. But they aren’t, because resources are not going to them, while resources for the opposite end of the spectrum are plentiful.

The tech sector can’t fix that problem all on its own, but we can help right that wrong just by operating in our own self-interest. We have a pretty good bead on what kinds of skills we need over the coming years. And we have the resources–the insight, the influence, and the financial means–to help make that happen. Many companies with public-facing social goals earmark funds and support their employees in volunteering in their communities.

Want to do something this fall to help balance the scales of justice, while also building talent in the region to continue the tech sector’s growth? A couple of ideas:

  • UP is holding a STEM Day for its students on Friday, October 20th. Join iRobot, BitSight and many others, by bringing a few of your volunteers and your tech to show off to UP’s kids.
  • Join UP’s Tech Advisory Board (TAB): Composed of leaders from some of greater Boston’s best tech-centric firms–IBM, Google, American Tower, TripAdvisor, and more–this group creates STEM exposure opportunities and raises funds to supplement UP’s work.

UP is delighted to be supporting Superintendent Mary Skipper of BPS, and her new leader for private-sector partnerships, Anne Clark, in finding many more ways to bring the needs and merits of BPS students to the front doors of the local tech sector. It’s a win-win.

As people who were given access to opportunity, we bear a collective responsibility to promote greater equity within the tech sector. What we know: 85% of STEM jobs that will exist in 2030 have not been invented yet. What we have: a chance to shape the tech landscape to ensure that it’s inclusive, diverse and accessible to all, for generations to come.

However you get your firm acting on our responsibility – enjoy that (choke) pumpkin-spice latte!

Emily Nagle Green is a retired tech-sector CEO, now serving on several public company boards. She is the Chair of the UP Education Network Board.


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