Obama Spotlights Diversity at Inaugural White House Demo Day

The president argued that embracing diversity is the answer to keeping high-paying tech jobs in American hands.

by / August 4, 2015
President Barack Obama discusses the Duolingo language learning app at the first White House Demo Day on Aug. 4. where he heard "pitches" from a variety of tech startups. The White House

The White House has made it clear where it stands on tech diversity.
 
On Aug. 4, President Obama used the White House’s first Demo Day to petition the tech industry to adopt diversity practices in both hiring and venture capital funding. The president said that while America has transformed into a tech Mecca for some, only 3 percent of venture-backed startups are led by women and just 1 percent are led by African Americans. His message was part of day filled with entrepreneurial pitches from app developers and innovators as he and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith interviewed presenting attendees.

“We’ve got to make sure that we’re taking advantage of this moment by tapping into all the talent America has to offer no matter who they are or where they set up shop,” Obama said.

To reinforce his message, more than 40 leading venture capital firms — including Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital and others — committed to a variety of practices aimed at stimulating entrepreneurship among diverse groups. These commitments were joined by more than a dozen large tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Xerox, that promised to consider minority applicants in top-level positions. The president praised Intel in this endeavor for its added pledge to have full representation of women and minorities in its workforce by 2020.

The White House made announcements on its own programs as well, saying 10 new states and cites had joined its TechHire initiative that cultivates high-tech job skills, and that additional cities agreed to participate in Startup in a Day, a program promoting same-day business registration for entrepreneurs.

While equality was driving the day's overarching message, the president said diversity in the tech industry and workforce was also critical for America to stay competitive internationally. As evidence, he pointed to national population trends and the nation’s deficit in professional engineers. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2060, one-in-three U.S. residents will be Hispanic, doubling the population from 53.3 million in 2012 to 128.8 million. With respect to the IT labor force, tech giants like Google are well known for lobbying Congress on H-1B visas to import talent.

Obama argued that embracing diversity is the answer to keeping high-paying tech jobs in American hands.

“The next Steve Jobs might be named Stephanie or Esteban,” Obama said. “They might never set foot in Silicon Valley. We’ve got to unleash the potential of every American.”

Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.