by Katherine Griffin
In 2040, African Americans and Latinos will make up nearly 40 percent of the population of the United States. Yet if present trends in the technology workforce continue, they will hold just 5 percent of tech jobs at the top companies.
Laura Weidman Powers co-founded Code2040 to make sure this gloomy forecast doesn’t come true. The San Francisco–based nonprofit’s goal is to connect African Americans and Latinx tech talent with the resources and opportunities to be successful in the tech industry. To that end, it places minority students in internships with tech companies. It has a strong track record: in 2015, 90 percent of Code2040 interns received job offers from the companies where they worked.
Powers got involved with education and training early. As a student at Harvard, she worked with a program called CityStep, which brings arts education to middle-school students. As a senior, she won a fellowship that allowed her to take the program into the West Philadelphia school system the year after she graduated.
“It was a formative experience,” she says. “I learned a lot about building something from scratch, and also about building for sustainability.”
At Code2040, Powers and her team have learned that providing support, feedback, and training to both interns and their managers is key. “We don’t just make the match and walk away,” she says. “For a lot of students, it’s their first time in a professional setting. For managers, it may be their first foray into diversity and inclusion work.” The students are paired with mentors, and managers are trained in giving feedback to people who may come from a different background than they do.
In 2016, Powers got the opportunity to take her ideas onto a bigger stage: Her work caught the eye of US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, and Powers was invited to spend six months working at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Her work was focused on diversity and inclusion in tech hiring and entrepreneurship— specifically, how the United States can hire and retain diverse teams, build sys-tems to support minority entrepreneurs, and make the tech industry more inclusive.
When Powers returns to Code2040, the organization will have doubled the size of its staff and programs. The fast growth may well take Powers and her staff out of their comfort zones—but she wouldn’t have it any other way. “If you want to accomplish something big, you have train yourself to be okay with feeling uncomfortable,” she says. “Impact and change happen in uncomfortable spaces.”