The phrase “tech boom” means different things to different groups of people. For many new Bay Area arrivals it means the chance for wealth, freedom, and opportunity. For others, it means rent increases, economic struggle, and inevitable push out. Cities such as Berkeley and Oakland which were once considered welcoming hubs for social activists and black and brown neighborhoods are rapidly becoming places in which only the wealthiest (and whitest) survive. Currently the tech world’s overwhelmingly male, white and Asian. The lack of diversity in this burgeoning field has reached epidemic proportions because it holds the key to the financial futures of thousands of people in our region. The push out is real and it’s hitting poor communities of color the hardest. According to an article published by the San Francisco Business Journal, Oakland rents were the second-fastest rising in 2015, showing a 14 percent increase. The monopoly of the tech industry has drastically altered the demographics of who has the ability to live and dream in cities that were originally created and cultivated by marginalized communities years ago. As the people leave, so does their legislative power as well as their culture and history that has defined these cities for so many years.
If we have any chance of salvaging what’s left of cultural and economic diversity in Oakland and Berkeley in particular, then we must put pressure on the companies in this industry to create spaces for diversity in this market. Many tech companies blame their lack of diversity on a lack of qualified candidates however, it appears something more insidious is at play. According to Forbes, “A USA Today study discloses that top universities graduate black and Hispanic Computer Science and Computer Engineering students at twice the rate that leading tech companies hire them.” Moreover, although there is an equal number of girls and boys participating in STEM high school courses, the US Census reported there was double the amount of men as women working in the STEM field. Furthermore, there’s an issue of retaining diverse candidates once they’re hired. Forbes reported that many women and minorities leave soon after getting hired because they feel uncomfortable with the “tech culture.” These examples reek of structural racism and sexism.
However, despite these troubling facts, there are initiatives that are working to bridge the gap. For example, on January 28th, the City of Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development and Localwise are partnering for the Berkeley Startup Job Fair located at NextSpace Coworking. The event’s mission is to create access to startup jobs for diverse communities and will showcase many of Berkeley’s most innovative startups and community stakeholders such as: Women Who Code, The Kapor Center for Social Impact, Hack the Hood and #YesWeCode. This event also stresses the need for non-technical jobs as well. “We’ve helped startups hire sales teams, customer support staff, office administrators, marketing professionals, and more. Berkeley’s community is rich with talent, making Berkeley an increasingly popular destination for startups,” said Ben Hamlin, Localwise’s Co-Founder.
Localwise’s other co-founder Maya Tobias states, “Diversity is instrumental not only to growing profitable companies, but also sustainable communities.” Although there is much work to do, initiatives like this one are a step in the right direction. The implementation of social justice has many moving parts. In the case of the changing racial and economic landscape taking place in the East Bay, who has the right to the city depends on who has access to jobs, land, and political power. Although with issues such as institutional racism and sexism at play, the battle unfortunately doesn’t end when you land a job but it’s certainly a worthwhile and empowering start. Please click here to sign up for the Berkeley Startup Job Fair. We hope to see you there!
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