One of our region’s greatest strengths is our rich ethnic, cultural, gender and geographic diversity. In Santa Clara County, the plurality (39 percent) of our students starting Kindergarten are Latino. Our vibrant Vietnamese population in San Jose is the largest in the world outside of the country of Vietnam. More than 150 languages are spoken in our schools.
Such rich diversity not only makes for great communities, it also helps to build great companies. More than half of the engineers who fuel our innovation economy were not born in the United States. Nearly half of all start-up companies, the primary vehicles for job growth in our country, have a foreign-born founder or CEO. In our 2018 Silicon Valley Poll, in partnership with the Mercury News and Bay Area News Group, we learned that 78 percent of Bay Area residents deeply value the contributions that immigrants bring to our communities and 71 percent value their contributions to our companies.
Yet we can do better. Much better. Fortunately, our entrepreneurial culture is not one that rests on its laurels, and innovation economy employers must lead the way when it comes to building, keeping and cultivating a workforce that more closely mirrors our communities. At the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, we work to embed “Diversity by Design” into our hiring, training and development practices internally, and into our ambitious work plan externally. This shines through in the efforts of our Education and Workforce team, as part of our Cradle-to-Career focus to further diversify the STEM pipeline. Each component part is important, but collectively builds towards a lifetime track for a more diverse and inclusive workforce in our Valley, for careers in high-tech, low-tech or no-tech.
Recently, our efforts included our Young Men’s Leadership Summit at Santa Clara University on December 7, bringing together middle school boys from a half-dozen campuses in traditionally under-served communities with more than 100 mentors and role models from our Member Companies including:
They all participated for a day of inspiration, aspiration, and hands-on participation in STEM activities that lead to meaningful and well-paying careers. It was our 15th “Young Men’s” or “Young Women’s” Leadership Summit in just the past nine years.
Yet these are not “stand alone” efforts. Rather, they are building blocks to re-building a more sustainable and successful economy. It starts at birth, and the amazing work accomplished through Educare in East San Jose, to Transitional Kindergarten and the legislation championed by then Senator Joe Simitian. It includes tutoring opportunities through initiatives like Reading Partners Bay Area to focus on reading and math, and summer fellowship opportunities for teachers through Ignited (formerly IISME). It includes focused partnerships with Mayor Sam Liccardo and the San Jose Library Foundation in our Coding5k Challenge to provide coding academies for kids in Grades 2 through 12, and our 18 community college partners throughout the Bay Area in our “Community College to Career” initiative, in which 280,000 students can be equipped with the skills needed for solid middle and upper middle class jobs with a two-year degree, a certificate program, or transfer to a four year university – on campuses that are 72 percent non-Caucasian and 53 percent female.
None of these efforts are easy – but “easy” is rarely earth-shaking. Building diverse and inclusive communities and companies is the work of our generation. We will stumble. We will fall short. But working together, we can succeed. We will do so by lifting others up, rising above the waves of past missed opportunities, rather than tearing each other down.
I saw it in the eyes of middle school boys on December 7 at Santa Clara University, as well as in the smiles of middle-aged mentors and role models who connected with them. Let’s make 2019 the year in which diversity and inclusion becomes more deeply embedded in every school campus, and every company in our Valley.
– Carl Guardino, CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group