Mar 5, 2024 - World

Fixing Latino shortage in tech needs holistic approach: study

Illustration of a line of computers with exclamation marks on their screens, the one in the center has an inverted exclamation mark.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The staggering shortage of Latinos working in tech is a problem that has to be addressed holistically and as early as grade school, according to a new report.

Why it matters: Tech drives the U.S. economy and is replete with high-paying jobs, but Latinos have been systematically shut out. They account only for 5% of executive leadership positions at tech companies and 6% of venture capitalists, according to the Kapor Foundation report released Tuesday.

Context: As early as grade school, Latino students have less access to the foundations needed to succeed in tech.

  • 78% of Latino students had access to computer sciences courses, compared to 82% of white students and 89% of Asian students, per the report.
  • Despite accounting for 29% of the U.S. high school population, Latino students make up only 21% of students in foundational computer science courses and 20% of AP-level courses.

What they're saying: "We want to ring out the alarm," says Lili Gangas, chief technology community officer at Kapor Center, an organization that aims to make the tech sector more inclusive. "There's no way that the current strategies, the current investment approaches that we are collaborating on right now is enough."

  • Gangas says she's concerned about the percentage of K-12 students who don't have access to computer science courses.
  • "Especially as we think about where AI is going, we need that type of critical thinking super early because that's where those types of skills are," Gangas says.
  • One key is for parents and educators to understand that many jobs in tech pay well and help build wealth. Another is for leaders at all levels, from policy makers to educators, to work collaboratively on building the pipeline of Latinos in tech, she adds.

Mariela Salas, executive director of SomosVC, which works to increase the number of Latinos in venture capital and which participated in the study, says that the dearth of Latino venture capitalists in tech is one of the reasons Latino-led companies receive so little funding — just 1.3% of all money doled out last year.

  • "The venture capital ecosystem specifically is very homogenous. It's run by white men. And so it's no surprise that when these white men are investing, they are investing in folks who actually look like them," Salas says.
  • SomosVC provides fellowships and mentoring to up-and-comers in venture capital with the goal of increasing the number of Latinos in executive positions.
  • But it's not just about having diverse voices — innovation itself suffers when it's homogeneous, Salas says.
  • "There are a lot of nuances and frame of thought, diversity of thought that that can be encoded to really innovate."

The intrigue: While Latinos make up only 8% of participants in tech boot camps, the percentage of those working in apprenticeships has soared from nearly 7% in 2018 to more than 15% last year, per the report.

  • Gangas says it's one of the bright spots in the report, adding that it signals that the learn-as-you-go model resonates with Latinos.
  • "We learn by doing. We want to make sure that we're also being practical and being able to get opportunities in the workforce that are consistent with what the market wants, that we're getting our fair pay," Gangas says.
  • "Hopefully these data points also help shed light into where the private sector and public sector should be investing more, especially because of how fast technology is moving."

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