More than 250 people will gather at MIT beginning today for a three-day conference aimed at increasing the number of women and minorities in the innovation economy.
Gov. Deval Patrick, talk show host Tavis Smiley and record producer Quincy Jones will be among the 30 speakers at the Platform Inaugural Summit.
"A lot of people talk about the archetype of the young white male tech entrepreneur, but if there were a black Mark Zuckerberg, that would change perspectives," said Hank Williams, who founded Platform, a not-for-profit, last year to increase the interest and success of those under-represented in the innovation economy. "It might affect that young girl from the Latino community who may not believe technology is for her. And it might help the innovation community understand that you create better things when the people creating them are from diverse backgrounds."
A 2011 report by the National Venture Capital Association and Dow Jones VentureSource found that only 11 percent of people working in venture funds in an investing capacity are female, and only 2 percent employed in such funds in any capacity are black or Latino -- a 33 percent decrease from 2008.
A CB Insights study also indicated that for the first half of 2010, only 1 percent and 8 percent, respectively, of the founding teams of venture-funded early-stage Internet companies had black and female members.
"Girls are already heavy users of technology; the goal is to shift the needle from them being consumers to creators," said Kimberly Bryant, a summit speaker and founder and executive director of Black Girls Code, which teaches girls technology. "It's not just a moral imperative; it's an economic imperative. If you don't have the folks using your technology at the table, it's going to cause the U.S. economy to lag because of our inability to fill job openings with the skilled labor we need."
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates there will be 1.4 million computer-related job openings by 2020, but today we have enough people to fill only about 30 percent of those positions.
That's in no small measure due to the fact that only about 16 percent of women graduate from college with a degree in computer science, Bryant said. For black women, the portion is fewer than 3 percent, and for Latino women, it's fewer than 1 percent.
"There is talent in every Massachusetts community, and in a global competition like the one we're in, we need all that talent on the field, ready to compete," the governor said. "That's why diversity matters, and I thank Platform for bringing these issues to the forefront."
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