Facebook is targeting minority parents to improve tech’s diversity gap

Facebook is targeting minority parents to improve tech’s diversity gap

On Wednesday, the tech giant launched a new resource for minority learners—and their families.

Diversity in tech is a hot topic in Silicon Valley these days—with good reason. The arguments for it are countless: diverse workforces improve the bottom line, get companies closer to their customers, help spur innovation…the list goes on. However, one factor that stops tech companies from hiring more minorities and women is the so-called “pipeline problem.”

Indeed, in 2014 just 14.7% of computer science graduates were women, 4.1% were black and 7.7% were Hispanic, according to a report by the Computing Research Association.

Facebook aims to help change those stats with TechPrep, a tool the company launched on Wednesday. The new site is a centralized hub of resources in both Spanish and English, designed for people that want to learn more about programming—and for parents who hope to get their kids interested in tech.

Family plays a big role in determining who goes into computer science fields, says Maxine Williams, Facebook’s global director of diversity. “When you talk to people [that are programmers now], it’s always that ‘Oh, my dad was this, or my older sister did that,’” she says.

Unfortunately, most parents aren’t exactly programming experts. Working with Facebook on the TechPrep initiative, professional services firm McKinsey & Company found that 77% of parents and guardians do not know how to help their child pursue studying computer science. When looking at lower income parents and those who did not graduate from college, this percentage increases to 83%.

Reshma Saujani, the CEO and founder of Girls Who Code, which works to educate young girls about computer science, says this kind of parent-focused tool will be a game changer. “I wish it was around when I was growing up,” she says. “For my parents, the options were doctor, lawyer, or engineer…I chose lawyer out of those options.”

Saujani believes the TechPrep website will be particularly effective with members of immigrant and minority communities because of its directness. The homepage has a video that explains, in very basic terms, what programming is. Parents are then given simple, yet powerful proof points as to why their children should pursue careers in computer science.

Salary is one selling point: The average annual starting salary for a programmer is $62,000—15% higher than the annual median U.S. household income, according to the website. Employment is another: By 2020, there will be a million programming jobs left unfilled.

For Claire Shorall, manager of the computer science program at the Oakland Unified School District, the focus on parents makes the tool stand out. “It’s beyond exciting to have a platform that is primarily parent-facing,” she says. “It’s so unique to have a parent-facing resources.”

TechPrep is designed to allow bilingual and lower-income families to take advantage of its resources. The entire site can be viewed in Spanish, and many of the resources can be downloaded and printed out, a boon for learners without home internet access. “You need to make this as easy as possible for people that have a lot of competing interests and priorities,” Williams explains.

Facebook plans to roll out TechPrep thorough three primary channels: community-based partners like the Boys and Girls Club, influencers in local public schools and community centers, and via Facebook, of course.

TechPrep “is not a direct link to a Facebook job,” but rather an effort to benefit the industry as a whole, Williams says. The need to expand the tech talent pool goes beyond the push for diversity: One million jobs that will be left unfilled if more people are not equipped with computer science skills.

Hopefully Facebook itself will also benefit from its new tool. The company’s technical workforce is roughly 84% male and 94% white or Asian, according to diversity statistics released this summer. While these numbers are nothing to celebrate, they are unfortunately fairly run-of-the-mill for major tech companies. In Fortune‘s diversity analysis of 14 major players—including Google, HP, Intel and Microsoft—Facebook was squarely in the middle of the pack in both gender and racial diversity.


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