Bridging the gap between communities of color and tech

By Natasha Payés

Two years ago, Tiffany Shumate, MBA 23, traveled to Ghana to meet with a team of tech gurus and professors from local universities.

As senior director of university programs for edtech nonprofit AI4ALL, Tiffany wanted to understand how the two groups were preparing students for tech jobs. She also aspired to learn best practices that could help expand AI4ALL’s reach beyond the U.S. 

Her takeaway from the visit was that the two sides, while effective in their own worlds, were working in silos, which didn’t do enough to help the students. “A bridge was needed between them,” she said. “All they needed to do was talk.” 

Since that visit to Ghana, Tiffany made it her life’s mission to serve as a “bridge” between underrepresented communities and tech. 

As executive director of Hack the Hood, an Oakland-based organization that teaches data literacy and coding skills to youth of color, she aims to increase the number of Black, Indigenious, and people of color (BIPOC) in tech. 

It’s a lofty goal. The percentage of people of color working today in the tech industry is dismally low. Black, Latinx, and Native American employees who hold technical roles at major tech companies including Google, Facebook, and Apple to name a few, make up less than 10% of each of these workforces, according to their diversity reports. 

“Technology is seeping into every industry and it’s vital that we prepare communities of color for the future of work,” Tiffany said.

Equipping BIPOC youth with data literacy skills not only opens doors to tech careers, but also addresses education inequities that disproportionately impact communities of color.

A native of Newark, NJ, Tiffany began her career addressing education inequities, working as a family advocate with the Office of Special Education in Washington, D.C. In her role, she informed parents of children with special needs about their rights and services available to them, including speech therapy and individualized education plans (IEPs).

“Many of these families didn’t know about their rights,” Tiffany said. “They were thankful to have an advocate in their corner, helping them navigate special education law.”

Tiffany went on to teach special education in the Washington D.C. public schools before she was hired by admissions at her alma mater, Bryn Mawr College, to help increase the number of underrepresented minority (URM) students. 

Through partnerships with community-based organizations, community colleges, and higher education advocacy groups like the Association of Black Admissions and Financial Aid Officers of Ivy League and Sister Schools, Tiffany helped increase URM applications by 35% at Bryn Mawr in two years. Eventually she left higher ed and worked for edtech nonprofits Black Girls CODE and AI4ALL.

Tiffany believes that every organization she’s worked for made profound impacts on communities of color, but that the impact could have been greater with more access to capital.

“Social impact programs are part of the solution, but if you really want to make an impact, you have to make a budget line for it,” said Tiffany.

And she’s learning how to navigate budgets effectively during her time in the evening and weekend MBA program at Berkeley Haas with courses like Financial Accounting and Introduction to Finance, a course focused on valuing assets and evaluating risks. Leading People–a course aimed at teaching students how to motivate and influence teams–has already shaped her thinking about ethics and how to lead and support her all-female team.

Over the next five years, Tiffany and her team plan to expand Hack the Hood’s reach to serve a total of 5,000 young people and small business owners.

So far, Hack the Hood has equipped about 1,200 local youth with coding skills that they’ve used to build websites for more than 460 small businesses in the Bay Area since 2013. There are discussions about expanding the curriculum to teach data analytics to help small businesses drive revenue after a pilot mentoring program successfully matched 30 small business owners with tech mentors. For two months, business owners learned about data analytics, best practices for social media, and received feedback on their business plans.  

“I want young people who come to us to know programming fundamentals as well as skills needed for the future,” Tiffany said.

Posted on April 12, 2021
Natasha Payés
Natasha Payés is the News & Communications Manager at the Haas School of Business. She covers all things related to current students.