February 27, 2012

By: Phil Ting

San Francisco’s economic recovery may be driven by new media, but let’s not call it a “new economy” just yet.

Because as powerful, even transformative, as this new media economy can be, there is still one thing very old-fashioned about it – our tech economy continues to leave out a large part of our population.

That’s why I have been so focused on closing the “Digital Divide,” from creating free,universal wireless broadband to making sure every household can afford at least one device to access the Internet from home.

And the challenge is more than access from the user end – we must also make sure that the people who code, create and profit from the new media economy reflect the diversity of this state. And the sad fact is that right now both women and communities of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, are dramatically underrepresented at every level of the Internet economy.

That’s why I am so proud to be co-hosting an event tomorrow (Tuesday) night with an incredible group of activists called Black Girls Code. They have been working to bring more young women and communities of color into the Internet economy. And I hope the Reset community will turn out to learn how we can address this fundamental barrier to a truly “new” economy.

The Need For Diversity In Tech

Recent studies have quantified what was obvious to anyone waiting in or walking by a tech company shuttlebus line.

At one of the nation’s largest Internet companies, African Americans made up just 3.5% of the total workforce and a miniscule 1.3% of top officials. Remember, African Americans make up 11% of the working-age population in the United States.

Minorities in a recent study categorized as “under represented” make up 27% of the population and earn 18% of undergraduate computer-science degrees. But workers from these communities were barely present at seven large Silicon Valley companies studied.

There are some bright spots. Asian Americans, particularly those with Indian heritage, are well represented in the ranks of tech workers.

But there remain some terrible gaps and not just with “minority” communities of color but with the largest majority group – women. There are many compelling statistics on this issue but one, from TechCrunch, sums up the problem: women own just 3% of all funded startups.

Closing The Digital Divide By Increasing Access To The Internet

The proposals driven by the Reset Community have focused on closing the Digital Divide in terms of equal Internet access and that remains a top priority. After all, when you need high-speed Internet access to apply for a job, rent an apartment or fill out a college application, then equal access to these essential activities means equal access to the Internet.

As someone who started my career in public service as Executive Director of one of the Bay Area’s largest civil rights organizations, I see equal Internet access through the prism of fundamental civil rights. But I’m not afraid to help all of us see it through a prism of self-interest – increasing access to the Internet dramatically expands the digital economy, which is creating high-wage jobs and driving recovery in San Francisco and throughout California.

Thanks to Black Girls Code, we understand the problem is more than just access the Internet; it is equal access to understand how to help code it – and equal access to profit from it.

I hope you will join us on Tuesday night at The Hub to continue this discussion. You can RSVP here.