The Moral Imperative for a More Diverse Tech Sector
In November 2020, Comcast NBCUniversal joined the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition as an Executive-level partner as the Coalition works towards its goal of doubling the number of Black, Latina, and Native American women graduating with computing bachelor’s degrees by 2025.
Dalila Wilson-Scott, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast Corporation recently caught up with Dwana Franklin-Davis, Chief Executive Officer of Reboot Representation to discuss the moral imperative for diversity across all sectors, which is more apparent, valued, and discussed than ever before. Read their conversation below.
Q: How do you see the events of 2020 – from the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, to the spread of COVID-19, to the disproportionate impact of distance learning on communities of color – impacting the overall movement toward a more equitable and diverse tech sector, especially for Black, Latina, and Native American women?
DALILA WILSON-SCOTT: When you think about any crisis, and certainly the pandemic, it’s both a health and economic crisis –– anyone who's in that vulnerable population is going to be disproportionately impacted.
We saw this in spades in 2020, especially for women and people of color. These inequities have laid bare for many people, unfortunately for the first time. It's not going to get better unless we come together and make very targeted, specific actions. We must all hold ourselves accountable for what's happened, while also being very thoughtful about how to move forward.
The statistics are pretty daunting –– 2 million jobs lost since February. Many of these losses are permanent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released data stating that in December of 2020 140,000 jobs were lost. And most of these, if not all, were held by women. We also know that over two-thirds of the Black and Latinx population aren’t prepared for many roles, and that if the digital skills gap isn’t closed by 2045 we'll have a population of people of color, who will be the majority population, that won't be prepared for the jobs that are available. These are daunting statistics and corporate America needs to have some targeted initiatives and actions to do what we can to close these gaps.
I do think it's helpful that there is now an awareness level about these gaps that is greater than anything we've seen before throughout broader society. This awareness will help the industry get to the next level. Nobody has all of the answers, but we know where the problems are concentrated, and if we can focus on disproportionately impacted populations, we can help a broader set of people.
This is why I'm excited that the tech industry has chosen some interventions to move forward with. Organizations like the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition are going to help us get there. And, what I love about Reboot is that it's the power of the collective. We're finding solutions together, as opposed to pursuing a strategy that's going to lead us to an island of success.
In this moment, we need transformative change at scale. This is what Reboot is all about and is certainly why Comcast is at the table.
DWANA FRANKLIN-DAVIS: I would add that between the pandemic and the spotlight on racial inequities, the gaps were also highlighted, and that includes the digital divide. The digital divide has slowed down the progress [our industry] was making with regards to Black and Brown students at every level.
I am cautiously optimistic with the momentum that [our country] was able to gain in 2020. Companies specifically acknowledged racial injustice, money was put forth, and commitments were made in the strategies they announced. Clearly change is happening and organizations are planning. But, I’ve said it before, companies must go past solidarity statements and ensure we continue to move toward real action. There’s more energy than ever before and I'm truly hoping that  was more than a moment, and rather a movement that really pushes the needle forward.
What gives me hope is the Reboot Representation Coalition. I know that our Coalition companies have come together because they know that it's the collective connection that creates change. They've put their logos aside and are working toward the future of ‘what can be.’ They recognize that although they're all in different places along this journey, it’s important to be on the journey and to make forward movement together. They recognize that in addition to the collective impact we're making, we have the opportunity to learn, grow, and share with each other so that no one has to start at zero. This means the new person or new organization that comes in can now start at five instead of zero, if we're talking about a scale of one to ten.
Q: In the wake of 2020 the moral imperative for diversity is on display for the world to see. How do you think the moral imperative has impacted the business case for diversity to increase representation in tech?
DALILA WILSON-SCOTT: It's interesting, people ask about the business case for diversity all the time, even though the business case has been around for what feels like forever.
We’ve seen in both profit and loss results and stock returns for companies that diverse teams do better. People keep restating that fact, but clearly there is a wide disbelief in that statement because the tech industry continuously doesn't see changes in representation.
But what has 2020 shown us? We know that there's $60 billion estimated in new corporate dollars or redirected corporate dollars just focused on this issue. So, I do think there’s energy to move past this moment and do something more transformative.
What I love about the work we've done at Comcast is that this commitment to diversity is not new –– we can point to ten years of aggressively tracking statistics on representation, hiring practices, and supporting our employee resource groups. Looking at our governance structure, 50% of our board is women or people of color. We have some important statistics to stand on, but also know that there's so much more we can do and so much more that we (tech companies and industry leaders) should be doing together. This newfound awareness was demonstrated through the announcements that companies have made, including Comcast’s $100 million incremental commitment to initiatives that fall in areas that we believe we can make a difference in and bring business expertise and credibility to –– especially in the area of digital equity.
Many of us have been talking about the digital divide for quite some time, and Comcast has been able to connect over eight million people to the Internet over the last decade. But, we also know that it's a reality that many people are still not connected, even today. This was a disadvantage before, but now it's impossible to be on a path to economic mobility without being connected. At this point, society can’t even talk about accessing high-quality education skills, quality healthcare, or even basic information if we can't start with a connection to technology. So, this is a place where Comcast really wants to double down, and we are thrilled that more people are recognizing it's going to take more resources, more time, and more focus to get it right.
This is not a moment for incremental change. This is a moment for transformation, and that means corporate America will have to enter a serious period of discomfort to figure out how we're going to move to the next level. Comcast is certainly prepared to do that, and I think many companies have to be prepared to do that. The commitments are a starting point –– people are seeing that moral imperative come to life. I do hope that this momentum continues well beyond a few years.
DWANA FRANKLIN-DAVIS: I'm hoping that this “new” moral imperative is the push we needed to continue to fuel that business case. Individuals and corporations can no longer plead ignorance. You know now, and if you don't know, then I don't know where you were in 2020 –– so, they now know, and if they choose to still plead ignorance that's a whole different story. It’s time to embrace diversity because it’s the right thing to do.
Companies have the power to be intentional about their approach to diversity and racial equity, today, tomorrow, over one year, or ten years, and society knows that now. And, while the importance of embracing diversity is growing across all generations, it’s clear that large companies who aren’t embracing a path to change will be scrutinized by younger generations. Today’s youth don’t want to buy products, work for, or engage with companies that aren’t morally committed to creating change and working towards equity in everything they do.
Simply releasing a statement or making a claim doesn’t mean anything unless your financial investments and actions match your rhetoric. Targeted, intersectional, philanthropic investments are one way companies can contribute to building pathways for talent, and ultimately create more diverse teams that all companies, consumers and sectors benefit from.
Q: How do you think philanthropy and grantmaking can help resolve a problem that’s been around for decades?
DALILA WILSON-SCOTT: Philanthropy is an incredible tool, but like any tool, it is more effective when it's executed with a broader strategy and with other tools in place. I don't think it's an either/or situation –– your philanthropic investments should yield return, but they might not always result in a profit and loss return in that year, and it should be thought about from a long-term perspective.
I've always talked about philanthropy as being an incredible instrument of risk capital. When we make business decisions, we think about stacking capital, and philanthropy is kind of the first money in, the first investment. So, if I'm investing in young people today to make sure they have critical thinking skills, to make sure they understand what agile development needs, to make sure they're understanding technology in a way that makes them more marketable and better able to achieve that tech position down the line, that's an investment that's going to pay off –– if not for my company specifically, perhaps for my industry, perhaps for corporate America more broadly, or perhaps for society more broadly. You have to think about these investments in the timeline that they yield, and philanthropy can be wasted if it operates in a vacuum.
Another thing many of us in philanthropy are talking about is being equitable with our philanthropy. Are we backing up leaders of color in this work? Are we getting insights and feedback from people of color and the people we're trying to touch to make sure we’re valuably impacting these communities? Philanthropy can be inequitable if it's not checked in that way –– we have to think about who we're supporting and who we're making sure has access to resources and networks, as well as financial capital. That's all part of what a successful philanthropic strategy looks like. You have to be intentional about it for it to work.
When businesses think about philanthropy working in concert with other tools, when we're giving collaboratively and collectively and are pooling our dollars for a greater and targeted impact, our money is going to go so much further than if any of us acted alone.
DWANA FRANKLIN-DAVIS: Corporations need to understand the return on investment, this was their hesitation. Some people advocate for handling diversity like a product, and while this means different things to different people, there’s generally a clear understanding of what a product is. You can measure it, you have goals and objectives and strategies set against it. The goals are imperative to the business, and if you don't meet them, then you don't get your bonus or whatever that thing is for your organization. And diversity has rarely been approached that way, but it should be.
I'm excited about the opportunity for companies to really understand what the real return on investment means now that they have the moral imperative to move diversity initiatives forward. They can understand the “what's in it for me?” from the Reboot perspective. In the Rebooting Representation Report,it was found that of the 32 companies they surveyed, they collectively generated roughly $500 Billion in revenue and $500 Million went to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Only 5% of CSR focused on women in tech, and less than 0.1% on women of color. Put another way, although companies express a strong desire to reach underrepresented women of color, only $335,000 of a possible $500 million focused on reaching Black, Latina, and Native American women.
These numbers and this investment clearly do not represent the verbiage we were hearing on the other side of, “we don't know where the women are and we don't know where the women of color are.” It’s clear that previous statements calling for increased representation do not match the tangible investments made. So, the CSR side of investing should mesh and meld with the corporate objectives of the organization. In other words, the goals of an organization’s philanthropic giving should be in alignment with the representation goals of the corporation.
Q: Why does the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition specifically focus on Black, Latina and Native American women?
DWANA FRANKLIN-DAVIS: My mind goes straight to the old saying, “rising tides raise all ships.”
In the context of Reboot, when we focus on the most underrepresented groups –– which in the tech sector is Black, Latina, and Native American women –– all women and all underrepresented people in the organizations we support benefit. Whether we're talking about the education or nonprofit sector, or about how our organizations are looking at recruitment and retention (because they are two sides of the same coin), it’s critical to act through a very specific, intersectional lens. Every talent pool has unique needs, and we must ask and listen to them. For women of color to successfully enter the tech industry, we must meet them where they are and address the unique barriers that prevent them from accessing the various paths to entering a career in tech. This will make it better for the entire sector. This is why Reboot exists and why we focus on Black, Latina, and Native American women.
Q: We all hope that this movement continues and that it’s not just a moment. So, in that spirit, what is one major change coming out of this you hope will stick?
DALILA WILSON-SCOTT: One thing that has a lasting impact is that there's a greater level of accountability for corporations. There's internal pressure from employees and external pressure from investors and others. We should be able to answer some of these tough questions –– like what do we stand for – in shorter order. And if we can't, we're certainly going to have to answer to stakeholders that have a lot of influence on our actions. In business, the trend is often to disclose more and to have more accountability in areas that warrant more progress. That accountability and transparency, that’s here to stay.
DWANA FRANKLIN-DAVIS: Data is power. And one of the things that Reboot is constantly saying to all of our partners, whether we're talking to nonprofits, higher-ed, or corporate America, is that we need them to disaggregate their data. Disaggregating data allows an organization to take a real intersectional approach to their strategies and objectives with regards to how they truly want to move the needle forward. Treating women as a monolithic group leads to missing critical insights about the different experiences and challenges particular communities of women face.
At Reboot, we don't want organizations to have a false sense of success by lumping people together. For example, we don't want companies to say that they “have 44% women and minorities” in a lump together. Let's break that apart. What does it mean? Disaggregating the data gives organizations the opportunity to pinpoint exactly what they want to work on, and why they aren’t doing as well as they should be in specific areas.
It is crucial to collect gender and racially or ethnically disaggregated data at every stage of the pathways into tech and to design interventions that fit the distinct experiences and unique needs of different segments of women.The data will show you everything as an organization, and will allow you to improve and recognize that not one company has it right just yet, but hopefully they should be striving to get there.
On February 3, 2021, Dalila Wilson-Scott and Dwana Franklin-Davis joined Becky Ferguson, Vice President of Global Philanthropy at Salesforce, for the Advancing Women of Color in Tech panel hosted by Social Innovation Summit. Dalila, Dwana, and Becky shared their unique perspectives on how the industry can work together to collectively make meaningful progress on closing the diversity gap in tech.