Global Head of DEI Industry Collaboration, Snap Inc.
On the face of it, there are few industries better placed to lead the way on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) than the tech sector, with its young, creative workforces building content for diverse, young audiences. But for years, tech’s record on DEI has been frustratingly poor, with representation of minorities, women, and people with disabilities significantly below desired levels. There is acute awareness of this within the sector, but until recently there has been virtually no concerted effort to address the problem and the material threat it poses to businesses.
That has begun to change with the ACT Report (Action to Catalyze Tech: A Paradigm Shift for DEI), a blueprint published in late 2021 for any company wanting to promote DEI in the industry. Endorsed by 30 influential tech companies, its working group was chaired by Snap Inc’s Vice-President of DEI, Oona King. As the report’s preamble states, “historically, the tech industry’s approach to DEI has been dispersed, individual, and short-term.” Its goal is to create a “new DEI paradigm, one that is holistic, collective, and sustainable,” and one that is also applicable to all types of businesses.
Crucially from the perspective of GBC-Education, it recognizes the importance of education to improving DEI. The report shows an understanding that improving DEI is not just a matter of diversity in recruitment but of educating the future workforce and creating a pipeline of talent from younger generations. “It means tackling educational inequity generally, and increasing access to computer science education specifically.”
Three of the report’s ten key actions that companies can adopt to change the DEI paradigm relate to education:
The report’s launch coincided with the creation of the Catalyze Tech coalition and an investment of $20 million — with Snap Inc. providing half of the funding — in four teaching colleges to exponentially increase teachers equipped to teach computer science (CS) across America. This investment was used to create endowments whose interest will help support more than 2,000 new teachers or instructors year after year, with a collective potential of impacting more than a million students over the course of their teaching careers. This will start addressing the acute lack of computer science teachers, especially within underrepresented communities. The CS effort focuses on digital literacy and developing computational and critical thinking skills in all students starting from kindergarten. It aims to empower all youth to be proficient in technology in addition to reading, writing, and math.
Such initiatives complement GBC-Education’s efforts to place education at the core of corporates’ ESG strategies, captured in our major new report, “Unlocking Impact and Equity through Education: A New Approach to ESG.”
The report examines education’s role in ESG and analyzes key material issues for education, with DEI prominent among them. Others include staff recruitment, child labor in the supply chain, resilience to climate change and brand reputation, among others.
At a GBC-Education panel discussion to coincide with the report’s launch during September’s United Nations General Assembly, Bish Paul, PhD, Snap Inc’s Global Head of DEI Industry Collaboration, gave more detail of the company’s DEI initiatives and how education fits into them.
Paul emphasized what an important development it was for tech companies to be collaborating on education. “We [Snap] realized that we wouldn’t be able to do this alone. So we decided to practice collective action, a cross-industry collaboration, because [one company] cannot solve a systemic issue such as education access.”
Having large companies like Google, Uber, and Salesforce on board “has really helped us scale up our impact”, he said.
“It’s a new thing for us [and the whole sector] to be able to do this. But we decided that there is no way we can have the workforce of the future, or for the present, without working on systems change together.”
He added that education was not only a priority of the philanthropy team. Snap had also designed a holistic collaboration to prioritize education across university outreach programs, technical recruiting teams, public policy initiatives, and DEI team strategy.
One pillar of Snap’s DEI strategy is inspiring empathy through storytelling and sharing personal journeys and experiences. Within the stories, education was often a key feature. “Every team and leader uses storytelling as a tool to explore race, gender, class, disability and other issues. I talk about education, and how that was the pathway my family used to break out of intergenerational poverty. My dad, the last job he had was as a migrant worker in Dubai, washing dishes. And education was the way to economic stability, success and to me even being here today.”
Collective action by companies can transform young people’s lives. As those youth become employees, they transform an industry from within. It’s a win-win for the future.