Janel Dyan

Women Crushing It Wednesday

#WCIW: Laura Weidman Powers

Bold Visionary. Innovator. Industry Disruptor.

Closing the employment gap for minorities in the tech industry by 2040. This ambitious but essential goal is the mission for Code2040 CEO, Laura Weidman Powers.  

A graduate of both Harvard and Stanford with her JD and MBA, Powers has been killing it in the tech industry. Before co-founding Code2040 she worked for a consumer web startup as head of product. However, she and her co-founder, Tristan Walker, recognized a huge problem facing people of color in the industry. Over the ensuing coffee discussion, Code2040 was born.

Speaking to the rationale, Powers said, “By year 2040, people of color will be the majority in the U.S. (Tristan) read a book that projected the demise of the middle class as accelerated by the adoption of technology and was in a place of — if this is what’s at risk, how do we make sure that disenfranchised communities aren’t further disenfranchised by the adoption and of technology? That was what lead to the impetus for the idea — how do we make the tech sector more inclusive so that people of color — Blacks and Latinos in particular — are not kind of left further on the sidelines further oppressed as our economy rapidly transitions towards a technology-enabled, technology-driven economy.”

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Laura had a passion for non-profits throughout college, and had always planned a career in the non-profit sector. When the opportunity to fulfill her passion and help disenfranchised communities came along, she seized on it.  

Over six years, Laura and Tristan have built a mutli-million dollar fund to help Black and Latinx tech students connect with companies and leadership in Silicon Valley, and, more recently, NYC.  The organization also provides education, resources, and outreach to these communities and for these communities, but their work is far from finished.

Currently, about 18% of computer science degrees are awarded to Black and Lantix students, but only about 5% of technical jobs are held by Blacks and Latinxs. Of those, only about 1% of venture-backed tech startups have a Black or Latinx founder. These numbers simply don’t add up.  The cause is far from simple, but the effect is that Black and Latino graduates are currently not receiving the support and resources required for them to excel and thrive in the tech industry.  And that's where Code2040 comes in. 

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A major initiative of Code2040 is the Fellows Summer program, which connects  top, college-level Black and Latinx computer science students who want to access the Innovation Economy, and have been historically overlooked and companies who are in need of this talent.

In the process, Fellows gain the network and experience they need to build their careers, while  company partners learn how to operationalize diversity and inclusion with entry level candidates.  To supplement the Fellows program, Code2040 also provides resources for companies diversifying staff and improving hiring processes. 

To tech companies, Code2040 says, “A Fellows Program partnership is not only about hiring, it's also about simultaneously going deep on organizational change to ensure that your processes and systems are developed with inclusion at the forefront. To focus your attention solely on hiring is to ignore the areas of development that are essential to not only creating, but maintaining the type of diverse workforce that better reflects the US population and ultimately your consumer base. It is with that idea in mind that we've developed this holistic approach to our partnership where you are able to build inclusion into all areas of your company leading to the type of culture transformation that changes your hopes for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) into a reality.”

Code2040 has had enormous success in creating symbiotic relationships, counting names like Google, Salesforce, ebay, and Twitter among their partners. As of the 2017 annual report, Code2040 has over 5,000 members and saw over 880 applicants for their Fellows program. By 2020, the organization projects to have impacted over 8,000 Blacks and Latinxs through direct service and over 30,000 through scaled service and multiplier effect.  

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Powers is at the forefront of all of this, but she’s not finished.  She worked with the Obama Administration for six months in 2016 as a senior advisor to U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith. At the White House, she focused on ensuring that hiring practices, entrepreneurial ecosystems, and the tech products and platforms of the future work for all Americans, particularly those from historically marginalized backgrounds.  

This year, she returns to the White House to continue her mission with the Trump Administration.  For her work with Code2040, Powers has been recognized by Forbes, Ebony Power 100, Goldman Sachs, The New York Times, and Bloomberg. Laura is a 2016-2017 New America California Fellow, one of San Francisco Magazine’s 37 Soldiers of Social Change, and The Root named her one of the 100 Most Influential African-Americans in 2013 and 2016.  Now, for her role in the innovation, creation, and success of Code2040, and her bold vision for the future, Laura Weidman Powers is this week’s #WCIW.

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