DMU students address lack of diversity during San Francisco visit

A company working to increase the representation of black and minority ethnic (BAME) staff working in the technology industry has been talking about entrepreneurship and the way to break into the world of technology with your own business with students from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

The Kapor Center for Social Impact in Oakland, California, aims to ensure the community of tech leaders better reflects the cultural diversity of the United States. Computer Science and Advertising & Marketing students from DMU met with the bosses of the Kapor Center as part of their visit to San Francisco. They are spending a week meeting business leaders from top tech companies to get advice about securing work or starting a business in the sector.

Students heard from start-ups and entrepreneurs based in the area who shared their stories about starting their own businesses and the challenges they have faced as well as the opportunities that exist for people of colour who want to break into the industry. The event was chaired by Tiffany Price, Community Engagement Manager at the Kapor Centre, who said there were valuable lessons for the students.

She added: “The timing is perfect for you to start a business in tech. Find an industry where you can use technology to make a change and you will make a difference.”   

The Kapor Centre is involved in several research projects to understand the barriers to inclusivity. These include examining why people leave the industry, why fewer BAME students choose computer science or STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects and how unconscious bias can hinder diversity at the interview stage.

Oakland, which neighbours Silicon Valley, is building a reputation for social impact and is home to several initiatives which aim to improve opportunities for its residents.

San Fran group shot

Students also had the chance to visit start-ups and meet entrepreneurs based in the area such as Cel, a home for businesses involved in changing culture and politics through innovation and Oak stop, a place where entrepreneurs feel welcomed and can thrive in a community where they are supported.

The final visit of the day was to GRID HQ , a company that delivers renewal energy technology into underrepresented communities. GRID installs solar panels onto the homes of low income families thereby giving them free energy. The panels are Installed by people from the community who are trained up by GRID. As Chief Executive Tim Sears said: “We connect good people with good jobs. We don’t just build financial capital, we also build social capital.”

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Reflecting on the events of the day, final year Computer Science student Fares Abida said: “I really liked how in all the companies we visited, they didn’t care about what you looked like or how you dressed, all they cared about is how businesses can work together to support each other. It makes perfect sense to me”.

Adnan Ahmed is also in his last year of a Computer Science degree. He said: “I was inspired by Lisa Gelobter, Founder of tEQuitable, who after leaving the Obama Administration went on to start her own business which helps other people - she brought 85,000 refugees to the USA last year.”

The #DMUglobal trip has been arranged by Mark Prescod, Associate Professor of Marketing at DMU’s Faculty of Business and Law and DMU alumnus Dion McKenzie, founder of Colorintech, a not for profit which aims to make Silicon Valley and London’s innovation economy more diverse and inclusive.

Posted on: Thursday 09 November 2017

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