Are African-Americans Opting Out of Tech Careers?

March 2, 2012  |  

by R. Asmerom

Are African-Americans opting out of tech careers? Dr. Maya A Beasley says yes. In her book, “Opting Out: Losing the Potential of America’s Young Black Elite,” The University of Connecticut assistant professor contends that self-segregation is discouraging African Americans from accessing the networks that lead to tech careers.

She drew upon 60 interviews with black and white college students at UC Berkeley and Stanford for her research. The impetus for the book stemmed from the fact that while she was a graduate student at Stanford, she noticed the lack of Black people in Silicon Valley overall although there was a relatively substantial amount of Black students at Stanford University. “I thought this was really odd because I went to college with really brilliant black students,” she told FINS. “And I knew that Stanford had a high proportion of black students so I was surprised to see such a disparity between what I saw on campus and what I saw on Main Street.” She wanted to understand how those students didn’t get filtered into the Silicon Valley infrastructure.

She noticed that some students were discouraged from STEM classes and that many others opted to hang out in exclusive cultural circles. “There’s a danger in completely segregating yourself,” Beasley told FINS. “When black students only interact with each other it really inhibits the information they’re getting. White students are getting advice from their parents and summer jobs through their connections. If you’re limiting the number of times you’re spending with white people, you’re also limiting the types of information you have available to you.”

In addition, Beasley notes that the composition of STEM courses (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math), which are dominated by a white and Asian males, also deters African-American involvement.

So what’s the solution? It seems that self-segregation will naturally take place but making a conscious effort to integrate and acknowledge the cultural dynamics surrounding Silicon Valley would help a Black student’s transition, if he or she desires, into the tech landscape.

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