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As Tech Firms Come To Oakland, So Do Hopes Of Racial Diversity

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As Tech Firms Come To Oakland, So Do Hopes Of Racial Diversity

Youth Radio

As Tech Firms Come To Oakland, So Do Hopes Of Racial Diversity

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Oakland is known for being racially diverse. The technology industry, not so much. And with the only black engineering leader at Twitter leaving that company recently, the sector's lack of racial diversity is getting attention well beyond tech circles. There's hope the situation will improve as more tech companies move to Oakland. Pendarvis Harshaw from Youth Radio reports.

PENDARVIS HARSHAW, BYLINE: Twenty-four-year-old Adan Faudoa grew up in the Bay Area. He didn't think he'd be a tech guy.

ADAN FAUDOA: Growing up as a kid, my dad was a big, you know, gear head. So he was pushing me in the direction of, like, you have to be an auto mechanic, Adan, 'cause this is where the money is at.

HARSHAW: Faudoa began to see things a little differently.

FAUDOA: More and more, I realized the people moving into my neighborhood were programmers and people working for tech companies.

HARSHAW: Faudoa decided he'd fight hard to become one of them, even though there aren't too many people of color in the industry. He landed a job at Pandora, one of the first tech companies to set up shop in Oakland. Someone else who gambled on Oakland, tech pioneer Mitch Kapor.

MITCH KAPOR: Five years ago, people thought I'd grown a second head.

HARSHAW: But to Mitch Kapor and his wife, Freada Kapor Klein, Oakland was the perfect place to carry out their mission to create diversity within tech.

FREADA KAPOR KLEIN: There's all of the platitudes that diversity's good for business. But you look around tech and you look at how hugely profitable companies like Google and Facebook and all these behemoths, and they're staggeringly un-diverse. And they're doing just fine.

HARSHAW: The Kapors invest in strategies that eliminate bias in the tech industry, whether it's through new training programs or by redesigning the application process.

KAPOR: If a company is made up entirely of, let's say, recent Stanford graduates - maybe fraternity brothers - and there's sort of a bro culture, you're going to feel left out. You can't actually be who you are.

HARSHAW: At Clef, a data security startup in Oakland, some of the founders did originally meet through networks in college. But now they're trying to bring the local community in by opening up their offices every Wednesday night for a free dinner.

DARRELL JONES III: There's a lot of new faces here today which is really exciting. It's my favorite thing.

HARSHAW: The crowd is full of people in their mid-20s and early 30s, a bunch of tech and media types. But one of the organizers, Darrell Jones III, tells me that firefighters and even the bartender from down the street will sometimes show up for a plate.

JONES: Through this more community-centric open event, we hope that we're able to really drive strong bridges between Oakland tech and just Oakland.

HARSHAW: Just Oakland? That's the blue-collar workers who settled here during World War II, the people who've immigrated from East Africa, the Middle East, Central America and Southeast Asia. Just Oakland is this town's history as one of the strongest communities for blacks in America. Oakland is already changing with the arrival of tech. But the question is, will the tech industry change, too, and become more diverse as more companies move in? The latest being Uber.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

LYNETTE MCELHANEY: It's going to be great when we start opening up those windows and we see all of those Uber employees bringing their Uber enthusiasm.

HARSHAW: That is Oakland City Councilmember Lynette McElhaney at a recent press conference announcing that the tech giant, Uber, will expand into the former Sears department store in the heart of downtown. And while McElhaney and other Oaklanders see opportunity in that news, they want more than just Uber enthusiasm.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MCELHANEY: The most critical part is when Uber lets Oakland move into Uber.

HARSHAW: Because that's what'll make the difference in terms of equity, meaning Oaklanders having a real place at the table in tech companies and not just for a weekly dinner. For NPR News, I'm Pendarvis Harshaw.

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