This Black History Month – the first since the global resurgence of a racial justice movement – seems like a fitting time to reflect on the importance of diversity and inclusion in an industry where racial inequality still stands out: the tech industry, here in Portland and globally.
Portland has been no bastion of racial diversity. At last count, the metro area was 77% white and 6% black. But the tech sector as a whole is hardly less lopsided. In 2020, it was reported that the mega-cap tech companies who had vowed to prioritize diversity had made little headway in a six-year-long initiative. So, it’s no surprise that when 2020 brought a national racial reckoning to America, many companies in the tech sector, including those in Portland, began taking a harder look at ourselves and the collective lack of diversity.
Our test is how we address and correct these shortcomings, not just in 2020, not just in Black History Month, but on a continual basis. Those efforts need to begin in our schools. We know there is work to be done to champion diversity in the tech and engineering fields, starting with education. For example, in 2017 only 9% of college students graduating with a degree in computer science were Black and only 10% were Latinx. Tech companies need to invest more time, money and talent if they actually want to see change in the schools that will make us most competitive in the industries of the future. To create a pipeline of diverse, qualified talent we need engineering programs heavily invested in attracting students who look different than the ones taught a decade ago.
At Tektronix, we have begun this process by working with universities to excite young people about building the technologies of the future, bringing hands-on opportunities and cutting-edge lab experiences to a diverse group of college students. Having access to real-life experiences, from EV racing cars to 5G technology, is so important for today’s university labs, which are essential for tech’s future. But keeping Black engineering students on a path to success means thinking about who is teaching them, and what efforts we are taking to help retain them once in the workplace.
That’s why I am proud to be Tektronix’s first chair of our Black Excellence Matter employee resource group. As a group, we not only provide support to Black engineers across the company, but we help inspire action from our executive team to create outreach and education opportunities for students. At Tek, we are committed to promoting technology access at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), as well as historically Hispanic-serving institutions, to lift up all students from diverse backgrounds and build new pathways toward our profession. Partnering with these universities is not just the right thing to do from an inclusion standpoint, it’s the necessary thing to do from a business standpoint. At Tektronix, we can’t innovate into the future unless we have the most diverse teams to identify the challenges of the future.
At Tektronix, we love the fact we can share the same equipment we used to help make ventilators last year and test 5G communications with university labs. We know having a professional setup doesn’t just make a university lab better, it makes students more excited and prepared for professional-grade work. Tech or not, all industries are different, but we have a common challenge to diversify where our talent pipelines stem from. That means not only looking to recruit in new places but creating new mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities to give students a leg up where needed.
Of course, investing in educational opportunities for people of color isn’t going to be enough when facing the current makeup of the workforce in America. We also need to look at who is at the table now and work together to make sure that minorities in our organizations are being heard and supported in their careers. The allyship we all show in and out of our work and the long-term actions we start now are the only way we can create real change for our industry.