Opinion: How tech can be a force for good

Anyone who’s hiring can help. The unemployment rate for skilled tech jobs is negative, so businesses are desperate for talent. It’s not just tech companies that are struggling to fill jobs. Most every business wants to upgrade digital skills.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Most everyone agrees technology is a powerful force for change in our society. The jury’s out on whether it’s a force for good.

It absolutely should be. We can and should do a much better job of leveraging technology for positive change.

How? Let’s start by making sure technology works in the service of people — all people.

In this era of rising inequality, the Technology Association of Georgia is committed to making sure technology doesn’t disproportionately favor one group over another. This may not be the easy thing to do, but it’s definitely the right thing to do — especially in Georgia. Our state is the home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and many other Civil Rights icons.

In light of this heritage, TAG is focused on making sure innovation drives inclusion, just as inclusion drives innovation. We are working with our 30,000 members and other partners in this effort. Here are our principles for making technology work as an equalizer.

Credit: © 2019 Robin Henson

Credit: © 2019 Robin Henson

1) Access: There is a pressing need to help those in underrepresented talent pools connect with job opportunities. According to PwC, less than half of human resource leaders are focused on inclusive leadership. We have to do better.

Anyone who’s hiring can help. The unemployment rate for skilled tech jobs is negative, so businesses are desperate for talent. It’s not just tech companies that are struggling to fill jobs. Most every business wants to upgrade digital skills.

TAG provides access to resources and opportunities for underserved groups. Please reach out or join if you would like our assistance in connecting with talented high school students or others who are eager to gain real-world experience and mentorship.

Sometimes it’s just a connection — to a job, to a customer, to potential sources of capital for entrepreneurs that makes a difference. An introduction can change a life.

2) Equity. We use public-private partnerships to eliminate systemic barriers to opportunity. Here, we sometimes have to play the long game. For instance, we advocated for a state policy that passed two years ago. It mandates computer science will be taught in every Georgia public school by 2025. We also host coding camps, which addresses an immediate gap in skills.

We work on initiatives to connect the rural and urban workforce to areas of opportunity. I’ve been advocating for more state and federal funding for universal broadband. This technology has tremendous potential to bridge the digital divide.

We have given out almost $185,000 in scholarships to help people pursue STEM-related careers. A huge piece of the equity equation is providing people with access not just to jobs, but also to careers. People are hungry to learn new skills, grow professionally and better themselves. When that happens, families thrive and it generates a positive lifecycle that benefits everyone.

3) Diversity is a third TAG principle. How are we applying this? We’re working with the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) on upskilling IT people. The focus is on training underserved, diverse populations, in both urban and rural areas. Then there’s the traditional education system, which should do more to emphasize workforce skills.

Through our TAG-Ed program, we work with businesses to support tech training and apprenticeships for employees who would not otherwise get access to these important programs.

The possibilities of the innovation economy are endless. But we will never be able to realize our true potential if we don’t include everyone, including those who have limited access to technology.

4) The fourth principle is participation. We are committed to having a greater number of diverse and underserved people represented in our TAG membership. Diversity and inclusion permeates how we do everything.

Last year, TAG formed a Social Justice and Equity Task Force. I’m grateful to Stacie Hagan, formerly of Dell SecureWorks, and Roy Hadley, cybersecurity attorney, for chairing this task force and leading this effort.

On November 1, TAG will host Converge in Atlanta. This conference features thought leaders from across the country. Our program is dedicated to making technology a catalyst for positive change in our divided society.

Positive change takes forethought. We must be intentional about it or it doesn’t happen. When a young woman sees somebody who looks like her doing an amazing job in technology, it’s inspiring.

5) The fifth principle is human rights. The idea is simple but powerful: everybody should be respected, honored and able to live out their dreams in an equal and equitable way. That’s extremely important but too often it gets overlooked in the workplace amid the rush to innovate, automate or cut costs.

Our technology ecosystem is thriving and dynamic. As leaders in our communities and businesses, let’s make sure we don’t lost sight of what matters most: people. The innovation economy we’re building should be sustainable and always have a human focus.

Larry K. Williams is president and CEO, Technology Association of Georgia.