By DAWN GOOGE
At a time when technological aptitude is so highly valued, it is important to critically examine minority, and specifically black, representation in these lucrative careers. Wayne Sutton, co-founder of NewMe Accelerator, an incubator program formed to help minorities launch Internet ventures, has remained vigilant in this aspect of racial justice.
The situation is that minorities are vastly underrepresented in executive positions in Silicon Valley, a part of southern San Francisco where many of the world’s largest technology companies are located. While both women and Asian Americans have made significant strides in the fields of technology, African-Americans and Latinos lag behind. Roughly one percent of entrepreneurs who received venture capital in the first half of last year were African-American.
Being the merit-centric and color-blind society we proclaim ourselves to be, the numbers just don’t add up.
Business-software designer Mitch Kapor seems to have nailed down a likely culprit that can account for the lack of African-American leadership in Silicon Valley. Kapor reveals that a common practice in the tech industry by venture capitalists is the usage of a concept known as “pattern matching.”
Pattern matching is a computer system that looks for common attributes within reams of data. Pattern matching is a seemingly harmless measure until it is used as a navigation system to tell venture capitalists who and where to invest. This system defines which human traits, corporate makeup and financial projections are the foundations of another big Internet success.
The criteria for these projections range from a founder’s track record, personality type and alma mater, to which market the company is targeting and how its peers are performing as well as how quickly the business is expected to grow and begin collecting revenue.
After all factors are logged and accounted for, white males from marketable academic backgrounds or “elite” schools reign supreme. Tendencies in who’s deemed worthy of investment opens the door to criticism pertaining to status-quo privilege and maintenance.
Cindy Padnos, founder of venture capital firm Illuminate Ventures states “I have no doubt that most of what we see happening in the high-tech community is completely unintentional bias, and yet, we all have to recognize [that] unintentional or not, we are all born with it.”
Padnos also said “Undoubtedly, the unintentional bias comes into play when they look at the 15 [startups] they [invested in] and the five that succeeded big-time, when the ones that succeeded were led by white males. That somehow seeps into the equation.”
Some, like the NewMe co-founders, suggest that the problem could be rooted in the black community. They claim there is a perceived lack of support from black families for technological careers. This could account for the smaller numbers of blacks choosing to pursue jobs in technology.
Mitch Kapor of Kapor Capital takes a more systemic approach, citing risk-aversion techniques within venture capital that associate investments with minority entrepreneurs with risk. This would change the demographics of who gets financing.
He goes on further to say “African-American candidates are much more likely not to match the pattern. To recognize the truth is to accept that the winners at the top did so through a rigged game.”
However uncomfortable conversations about race may be, it’s necessary to challenge the effects it has on our non-existent meritocracy. Racism is no longer white men in sheets who burn crosses. Today it is white men in suits and the accompanying perception that they are the only ones capable of entrepreneurship.
Racism is not the individualized, hate-driven monster we still believe it to be. It is in our systems, our associations and our norms, making it invisible to some and dangerous to all.