The largely white-male industry has struggled to build a workforce that resembles the region
The Massachusetts technology industry, which has long struggled to build a workforce that reflects the demographics of the region in which it thrives, is laying out a new plan that its boosters hope will dramatically increase the hiring of Black and Latino people.
A coalition of about 60 companies led by the Mass Technology Leadership Council, a major trade group, was set on Monday to announce a goal to double the participation of the two underrepresented groups within 10 years. The companies plan to achieve that through a combination of strategies, including by tracking and reporting data on whom they are hiring and promoting, diversifying their boards of directors, and improving recruiting efforts.
The steps are described broadly in a “tech compact for social justice” released by the leadership council, and the companies that have signed on to the document must commit to only three of the 12 measures it lays out. But industry leaders said they are optimistic that the actions, taken together, could create some momentum on an issue for which progress has been elusive.
Anthony Williams, chief human resources officer at Akamai Technologies, the global content-delivery and cybersecurity company in Kendall Square, noted that the tech industry has more openings than it can fill, and it needs to broaden its sources of talent.
“If you look at it from a practical standpoint, being able to diversify the tech community is not only the right thing to do for society and equality, but it actually helps to feed a thriving tech community that we have here in Massachusetts,” he said.
The leadership council has been making noise about the demographics of the largely white male field for several years, and it has released several studies that have laid bare the shortcomings of the industry it represents. Many business leaders believe that more diverse workplaces, in terms of both gender and ethnicity, deliver better results, in part because members approach problem solving with a wider variety of experiences.
A report that the group released last year estimated that about 5 percent of people working in technology in Massachusetts are Black, and that about 7 percent are Hispanic or Latino.
Those numbers represent an increase over prior years, but the field has a lot of ground to make up. Research released by the council in 2017 found that it could take several decades for Black and Latino people to be represented in tech at the same rate — based on the size of their populations — as white men.
Nine percent of Massachusetts residents are Black, and 12.4 percent are Hispanic or Latino, according to US census figures.
Tom Hopcroft, chief executive of the leadership council, said he sees this moment of national reckoning over racial injustice as a chance to get companies to commit to measurable actions that will pave the way toward progress. Participants include major tech employers such as Akamai, Wayfair, Rapid7, and PTC.
“I’m very optimistic that we can really make an impact here at each level, signaling to the world that tech in Massachusetts cares about this,” Hopcroft said. He said his organization and its members will support talent development programs that target communities of color and will push for educational opportunities that better prepare students for technology jobs.
Tech companies here have faced criticism over their demographic shortcomings amid the nationwide protests sparked by police killings of Black people, including the Minnesota death of George Floyd.
State Representative Nika C. Elugardo, who spoke at a recent protest targeting the tech industry, said the commitments secured by the leadership council could be a good start. But she said they need to be backed up by efforts to develop company culture and leadership styles that will appeal to talented people of color.
She said companies shouldn’t stop at collecting data and measuring their progress based on those numbers, but they should train all members of their staffs to constantly evaluate what they’re doing to nurture a more just workplace for Black and brown people.
“As you are appropriately grinding and working really hard to understand what you need to do better, make sure to celebrate the victories,” Elugardo said. “But don’t use those as an excuse to stop the work. Use those as a launchpad to become excellent, the same way that you do in every other aspect of your work.”
David Delmar Sentíes, founder of Resilient Coders, a Boston training program for young people from traditionally underserved communities, said tech companies have failed to attract representative workforces because they have not been listening to Black and Latino people about the obstacles they face.
For instance, he said, many tech jobs require bachelor’s degrees even though the skills required for the positions can be learned and evaluated outside of a traditional college environment.
Still, he said, the companies’ commitments give him some hope that they will make serious efforts to change their approaches.
“In my experience, there are two types of resistance. There’s ‘Don’t want to’ and ‘Don’t know how,’ ” he said. “If nothing else, this initiative here suggests that there are a lot of executives who want to make this work.”
The success of efforts to improve inclusion in the Boston tech scene will depend on whether company leaders treat them the same way as other business goals, and hold managers and team leaders accountable for falling short, said Will McNeil, chief executive of the Chicago recruiting firm Black Tech Jobs.
“They are smart enough to solve amazing problems, but this one continues to elude them,” McNeil said. “And I think that’s the dialogue that we have to start having . . . How does that happen?”
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