Facebook is launching TechPrep, a new initiative in partnership with McKinsey & Company, to offer resources like tutorials, videos and games for parents to help their kids pursue careers in computer programming. Although TechPrep is generally a resource hub for learners, parents and guardians interested in careers in tech, Facebook is first focusing on communities where there are high populations of black and latino people.
“Underrepresented minorities, who by 2050 will comprise more than 50 percent of our population, are disproportionately lost at every transition point in their STEM, including computer science and programming, studies and careers,” Congressperson Eddie Bernice Johnson, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a statement. “When so much of our present and our future is dependent on computer science and programming, we cannot afford to continue hemorrhaging so much talent. We must all work together to leverage our respective strengths and resources to tackle this issue.”
The idea for TechPrep came from a research study, conducted by Facebook and McKinsey, about the participation of underrepresented minorities in computer programming careers. They found:
- 77% of parents/guardians don’t know how to help their child pursue degrees in CS
- For lower-income and non-college graduate parents/guardians, that figure increases to 83%
“What we see around coding and programming, is that there are some communities in which, because the parents’ capacity is not there — the guardian —that we’re losing whole generations of people who could be guided into these really lucrative, engaging, satisfying careers,” Facebook Global Director of Diversity Maxine Williams told me. “For most of them and for us, we really need to focus on how we build the capacity of these influencers. They are the most positive people in terms of how they view their children’s potential. and we share that belief.”
There’s no harm in trying to grow the pipeline of diverse candidates, but the lack of diversity in tech is due to more than just a pipeline problem. In the U.S. last year, Facebook hired 36 black people and 73 hispanic people, compared to 603 white people, according to its 2014 EEO–1 report. In total, only 2% of Facebook’s workforce is black, 3% of it is hispanic and — no surprises here — 55% of Facebook is white. Meanwhile, an estimated 4.5% of college graduates who received degrees in CS were black and 6.5% were Hispanic, according to data from the Computing Research Association. And that’s just one year’s worth of graduates, meaning that there are loads more of eligible candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. So, why aren’t they getting jobs at Facebook and other tech companies?
“We’re trying to get more than the 4.5%,” Williams told me. “Because when you start at 4.5%, everybody who ever got a computer science degree would have to agree to come to Facebook for our number to be at 4.5%. And that’s just not going to happen realistically.“
That’s what Facebook ultimately hopes to achieve with TechPrep: increase the number of people of color who pursue degrees in computer science and engineering. That being said, Williams recognizes that the lack of diversity in tech “is absolutely more than a pipeline problem.”
“We are doing short, medium and long term initiatives,” Williams said. “So for instance, if you think about the fact that we launched our managing bias training. Bias is something that’s critical in this and it’s not a pipeline issue.” She later added, “We are doing a number of different things, but you can’t do those things and succeed if you don’t also get a more robust pipeline coming in. So it takes everything together.”