OPINION

Opinion: Silicon Valley to Big Oil – Why women and minorities hold the 'It Factor'

FILE - In this June 16, 2013 file photo, Internet users browse their Facebook website by the free wifi internet service in an underground station in Hong Kong. It’s never too early to start planning for your digital afterlife, the fate of your numerous online accounts once you shed this mortal coil. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

FILE - In this June 16, 2013 file photo, Internet users browse their Facebook website by the free wifi internet service in an underground station in Hong Kong. It’s never too early to start planning for your digital afterlife, the fate of your numerous online accounts once you shed this mortal coil. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

We have heard it time and time again, tech companies need to be more diverse and inclusive. This rings particularly true for Silicon Valley, but also for the energy sector. In fact, the tech and energy sectors have more in common than most may think. Both are scrambling to find ways to diversify their workforce, and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields are in high demand within both sectors.

I recently attended a Women in Energy luncheon hosted by the American Petroleum Institute (API). The event was pretty mind opening. Not only is API prioritizing STEM but they are also looking for women to fill “blue collar” occupations. These blue collar jobs are not what most may think — in fact, many of these jobs require employees to possess a fair amount of technology know-how and training, and offer competitive salaries and benefits.

The challenge is finding women and minorities to fill these positions. At least this is the message coming out of the circles of Silicon Valley and big energy.

While the call for greater diversity and inclusion in Silicon Valley and across the energy sector is loud and clear, we should also be encouraging women and minorities to be innovators and contributors to these sectors in other ways.

- Laura Berrocal

Technology has become a major engine of economic growth in the U.S. economy, a trend that is being felt across virtually every U.S. industry. However, tech and energy are two industries that are especially under growing pressure to diversify their workforce since STEM jobs are particularly prevalent within these sectors. With that said, hundreds of programs are breaking ground to support greater minority inclusion in the STEM fields. Just make your way to STEM Connector – a clearinghouse of STEM programs – and take a look for yourself.

Industry itself is also beginning to take a stab at developing programs geared towards preparing students from K-12 to train to work in STEM fields. Google’s RISE ("Roots in Science and Engineering") Program is one of many industry initiatives that support public and private organizations that are focused on positioning more students to pursue STEM opportunities. The nuclear energy industry offers programs that enable high school students to prepare for employment opportunities in energy by beginning relevant training in high school and creating a pathway for students to then pursue an Associate or Bachelor’s degree that will enable them to work in the energy sector.

Clearly, the education component is very important and the tech and energy sectors are demonstrating positive signs of wanting to be more active in the education and training front, but what about the Human Resources component.

Companies need to do due diligence in their diversity recruitment and retention efforts at the Human Resources level. There are still minority students that are graduating from top universities with degrees in STEM. According to the Computing Research Association, last year, 4.5 percent of African Americans and 6.5 percent of Hispanics graduating from prestigious research universities earned computer science or computer engineering degrees.

Companies need to be willing to educate their recruiters and Human Resources Departments on ways to improve outreach to qualified female, Hispanic, and African American candidates. At the same time, the minority advocacy community that is calling for greater diversity within tech and energy companies needs to realize that it’s also up to all of us to find innovative ways to connect companies with the right candidates. The onus cannot only be on industry.

Yes, Silicon Valley has its go-to universities, good old boy network, and other ways to identify top candidates for open positions. But what industry doesn’t? Rather than pointing fingers, the goal should be to help diversify where these companies are finding their top candidates. For example, developing a network that the industry can easily and realistically tap into. While all eyes are set on building a long-term pipeline of diverse candidates that can be tapped 5-10 years down the line to fill energy and tech positions, what are we doing in the interim to help qualified women and minority candidates compete in the tech and energy sectors now?

Joint collaboration is incredibly important here. While the call for greater diversity and inclusion in Silicon Valley and across the energy sector is loud and clear, we should also be encouraging women and minorities to be innovators and contributors to these sectors in other ways. For example, through entrepreneurship opportunities and working with new startup companies that may be small now but can just as well be the next big thing five years down the line.

Women and minorities are poised to be significant contributors in the tech and energy sectors. They are also well positioned to help both industries better cater to the needs of a more diverse U.S. population, which translates into improved bottom lines and ROI for companies. This is what gives women and minorities the “It Factor.” They are positioned to help companies grow product lines, develop new technologies that resonate with a fast-growing customer base, and offer creative and unique ways for reaching more consumers. 

I truly believe this is one challenge where ingenuity and innovative thinking will prevail. Hey, we already have some new startups underway working to address this very issue and dedicated to positioning more women and minorities to be players in the tech and energy sectors. That’s progress.

Laura Berrocal serves as Chair of the Innovation Generation Coalition. Follow her @1LauraB

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