Here’s What Mark Zuckerberg Should Have Said at NC A&T

March 14, 2017 Opinion

In case you missed it, Mark Zuckerberg spoke at North Carolina A&T this week. NC A&T invited him as part of their Town Hall guest lecturer series. The visit also coincides with Mark’s 30 state+ tour of the United States to help share Facebook’s vision for the future. With Facebook’s black employees only representing 1% of their workforce, and Mark’s visit to an historically black college — the issue of Facebook’s diversity problem was an obvious topic. Before I address Mark’s response, I would like to applaud both NC A&T and the students who participated in the Town Hall Q&A. I honestly expected more Fox News GOP styled interviews with softball questions. However, I appreciated the professional and direct questions asked by the students that were both fair and relevant.

Now, let me say what I have to say. Mark Zuckerberg missed a huge opportunity to accurately address the diversity issues at Facebook. And in general, he bombed as a speaker. He went to a black college campus where he should have known that the topic of “black people in tech” would be THEE topic. The entire hour long visit (and how the media reports on it) will be summed up by that one question and his response to it.  The question asked by a 3rd year Ph.D student, “What advice would you give to us, as minorities, to strategically navigate the entrepreneurial world, so that we can be included?” Mark’s response, “Frankly, I think that’s our problem to figure out…There’s so much research that show that you need diverse teams to do the best work. So, it’s important that we do better on diversity, not only because it’s the right thing to do for the country and for people. But that’s the only way we’re going to serve our community best.” This was his response!!??!! In addition, to not engaging with the student, he answered the question with shallow depth and moved on.

As more web (and mobile) based technologies become interwoven in our lives, the ‘Learn to Code’ and ‘Work In Tech’ campaigns  are everywhere. If ‘Learn to Code’ was an ad campaign, it’s up there with the famous GAP ad’s, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. ‘Learn to Code’ is now equivalent to the ‘Just Say No’ ads in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s everywhere! Black families, black kids, adults, everyone is now at home trying to ‘Learn to Code.’ Everyone on the street level is aware that coding is a ‘thing’ and that Silicon Valley is RICH, like billion dollar acquisitions and IPOs rich. Basically, we get it, we bought into it. We Want Code. WE Want Tech Jobs! We Want To Be Rich Too! But honestly, most of us will agree to fair and equal pay.

There may be about 200,000 students currently enrolled in HBCUs. Computer science, graphic design, business, legal…there are a lot of majors that could land jobs at tech companies. So, Mark’s response of “Frankly, I think that’s our problem to figure out” falls flat. So, here’s the solution to fixing the ‘diversity problem’ in tech. HIRE MORE BLACK PEOPLE! HIRE MORE LATINO PEOPLE HIRE MORE INDIGEOUS PEOPLE! That’s it.

Facebook has more money than the GDP of small countries. Beyond just hiring more diverse candidates, they should be creating honest pathways. Mark Zuckerberg could have come to NC A&T and said ‘Hey we are prepared to work with all HBCUs and alum who are serious and want jobs in tech regardless if it’s Facebook’. But instead we got the 99 cent hallmark card level of interaction from the CEO of Facebook.

We’re trying so hard to figure it out’ (I’m interpreting emotion) …really!?  The reality is that the culture of Silicon Valley wants everybody to bootstrap their life, do your own project, work hard(on your own)…ok…!? Then what!? Should I do 10 projects? 20? How many hoops do I have to jump through? The writing is on the wall. We’ll just wait for another research study for someone to pay attention to what black people have been saying all along. We get that you’ve taken your ‘unconscious bias’ training, but the bias remains.

About the Author

DeVon Thompson is an alum of University of Maryland Eastern Shore and the founder of Hip Hop Travel Radio Show.