Hire Black and Latinx Tech Talent From These Overlooked Cities
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- After last summer’s racial justice protests, numerous tech companies promised to hire, retain and promote more from the Black community. Now another summer is upon us and not much has changed. The industry has a track record of insufficient action on diversity despite consistent promises.
How can tech CEOs do better? Let’s begin first with a major roadblock: the extreme geographic concentration of the industry and its workforce. Seventy-five percent of venture capital funding — which is mostly in tech — has been captured by New York, California, and Massachusetts, with the focus heavily on the tech superclusters of the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, New York and Seattle. Ironic, indeed, for the industry that is meant to be the de-concentrator and the killer of distance.
In an industry that experiences fast growth and a perennial war for talent, hiring managers tend to be both risk-averse and expedient: They hire from the same places, often close to these hubs, because it’s harder to spot and recruit talent from a distance. But a firm based in Boston or Seattle is going to run into the reality that less than 2% of the Black workforce lives in Massachusetts and less than 1% lives in Washington state. Almost 60% of the Black labor force lives in the South.
The pandemic could have made long-distance recruiting easier. Remote work could have opened possibilities for hiring managers to cast a much wider net. It hasn’t so far — but the remote working window is still open. Many tech companies have extended flexible working policies for the post-pandemic era. Some, such as Facebook, have pledged to let their employees continue remote work indefinitely.
So, where to look? Atlanta, with a majority Black population, has emerged as the go-to city for Black talent, with Google, Microsoft, among others setting up satellite offices there. It ranked 10th in tech employment nationally, and is a hub of Black tech entrepreneurship, and is home to several excellent academic centers, including Georgia Tech and Emory University, as well as Morehouse and Spelman, two preeminent HBCUs. Then there’s Miami, with its majority Latinx population, which became the top destination for remote workers last year.
But although Atlanta and Miami offer some of the largest and most diverse STEM talent pools of all U.S. cities, both are already well above the median in cost of living. Neither is “under the radar” any longer.
Based on an analysis by my Digital Planet team at the Fletcher School at Tufts, there are several other cities recruiters should be looking in for Black and Latinx graduates with STEM backgrounds. All have relatively high rates of STEM graduates of color as a share of the population. Five metro areas with deep benches of Black and Latinx STEM talent are Washington, Houston, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth and Philadelphia. For Black talent specifically, recruiters could add Baltimore, Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, Detroit, and Norfolk. And for Latinx talent, recruiters should add San Antonio, Phoenix, Orlando, Austin and Denver.
It’s not just a matter of which city has the most candidates, though. Recruiters will also care about how easy it is for those new hires to log on to video calls, upload their work, or download new assignments.
Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit are already among the top 12 cities in the country in terms of median download speeds. But the cities in the South and Southwest do not have the same strengths in terms of digital infrastructure. In particular, cities such as Miami, Houston and Dallas-Ft. Worth would benefit from upgrading the accessibility of their high-speed internet.
According to a recently released report on the state of work-from-anywhere, internet connectivity problems are the biggest employee concern regarding remote work. Even if one can expect tech workers to have relatively better access or establish their own workarounds, note that the digital divide disproportionately affects households of color; for many companies, worries about reliable internet access for remote employees from such households could be a deterrent or an excuse to simply not recruit.
This factor seems to have escaped several governors and mayors offering incentives for remote workers to relocate. Consider the extreme examples of Shepherdstown, Lewisburg and Morgantown, three cities in West Virginia, where the governor is offering a $12,000 incentive to lure remote workers to the state. According to our analyses, West Virginia ranks 50th out of 50 states in digital infrastructure.
While slow internet is often perceived as a rural problem, 62% of urban West Virginia does not use the internet at broadband speeds. And in fact, across the U.S., urban households are three times less likely to have a broadband subscription than their rural counterparts. This is a serious deterrent to companies that would like to search for talent in a more diverse array of cities.
Hiring managers in tech companies need to become less risk averse and extend beyond the traditional source cities and target schools for recruiting fresh talent. And cities need to upgrade their digital infrastructure so that they can benefit from the boom in remote work.
Many hiring managers may agree with the Wells Fargo CEO’s misguided comment last fall that talent from under-represented populations is hard to find, especially for those with a STEM background. That simply isn’t true — if you know where to look. If tech companies start looking in some different places, we could be having a different conversation next summer.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Bhaskar Chakravorti is the dean of global business at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and founding executive director of Fletcher's Institute for Business in the Global Context. He is the author of "The Slow Pace of Fast Change."
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