$100 Million Fund to Tackle Tech’s Diversity Problem

Launched by three coding schools.

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

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Over the next five years, a new fund will aim to award $100 million in coding scholarships to groups underrepresented in the tech sector, including women and racial minorities, according to a press release. The Tech Opportunity Fund, launched by code school The Iron Yard in collaboration with Code Fellows and Operation HOPE, will make scholarships available in 24 U.S. cities, including Indianapolis, Nashville, Raleigh, Tampa and Detroit.

The Iron Yard has committed $40 million in full-tuition scholarships to its own coding programs, and Code Fellows has committed $5 million in full-tuition scholarships to its schools. The fund hopes to meet its $100 million goal through as-yet-unannounced commitments by additional educational, civic and employer partners.

The Tech Opportunity Fund will also attempt to remove other barriers that could keep a qualified student from attending code school — like a need for affordable housing, counseling or transportation — through partnerships with city agencies and civic organizations.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution that will increase access to tech education and improve diversity in the workforce,” said Peter Barth, CEO of The Iron Yard, in a statement. “The Tech Opportunity Fund approaches these issues holistically and coordinates local and national resources to provide students with both academic opportunity and the support system they need to be successful.”

Despite a proliferation of programs aimed at increasing diversity in tech, the industry remains overwhelmingly white and male, especially at its upper echelons. Earlier this summer, Google announced that its total U.S. workforce in 2015 was 2 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic — the same as the year before. Women made up 31 percent of all Google employees around the world in 2015. That’s up just one percent from 2014.

Some have criticized Facebook’s assertion that the company’s similar lack of diversity is a “pipeline problem.” A 2014 USA Today analysis found that “top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate the leading technology companies hire them.” Nonetheless, many remain unable to access that education at all, and the Tech Opportunity Fund will aim to serve those students.

“By far, it is the largest tangible strategic financial commitment to diversify the technical talent and workforce that will drive our nation toward an inclusive innovation economy for all,” said Rodney Sampson, a partner of the Tech Opportunity Fund and partner at TechSquare Labs, in a statement. “The creation of the Tech Opportunity Fund is unprecedented.”

Scholarship applications will open by January 2017, and will be available to students who have already been accepted to participating code schools’ programs through the standard admissions process. Here’s a complete list of cities with participating Code Fellows and Iron Yard campuses: Atlanta, Austin, Charleston, South Carolina; Charlotte, North Carolina; Cincinnati, Columbia, South Carolina; Dallas, Detroit, Durham, Greenville, South Carolina; Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Nashville, New York, Orlando, Portland, Oregon; Raleigh, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Seattle, Tampa and D.C.

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Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.

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