By Fred Humphries, Corporate Vice President, U.S. Government Affairs, Microsoft
I’ve always believed in the power of education. My father was the president of two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and he instilled in me the belief that if Black and African American people receive quality education, a greater likelihood of opportunities would result. From my education at Morehouse to my campaign, government, and private sector work, I have sought to expand opportunities for others and be a champion for diversity in tech.
Achieving greater diversity at major technology companies requires relevant educational experiences. I’ve seen firsthand the impact that coding workshops for elementary school students can have, as well as more high schools offering Advanced Placement computer science courses and increased outreach to HBCUs. Improvements throughout the broader system are important, too. Through better access to broadband, skills training, apprenticeships, dedicated mentorship programs, and reimagining where and how we recruit, we can increase exposure to the many kinds of roles there are in tech and demonstrate that these incredible opportunities are within reach.
But to sustain and grow diversity in tech, it’s not enough to spark early passion for tech, grow the pipeline, and hire more people of diverse backgrounds and talents. It is crucial to also have workplace culture where behaviors and norms make everyone feel valued for who they authentically are so people stay excited and engaged in their work. At Microsoft, we strive to nurture that environment—where people with different backgrounds and experiences thrive in both their professional and personal lives. It was one of the reasons I joined the company in 2000, and it continues to energize me personally and professionally.
My focus is civic engagement—bringing together individuals and stakeholders in a community to make meaningful progress on important issues. Amplified acts of hate and violence against Black and African American people have thrust into the national consciousness the truths about structural racial inequity that the community has known for centuries. In cities and towns across the country, we’ve seen a strong community response that is giving me some hope. There is an opening for real change, and I am optimistic about the possibilities. And with the compounded socio-economic impacts of the pandemic disproportionately affecting minority communities, we have to ensure this deep civic engagement is activated well beyond 2020.
Corporations can play an important role, and many are looking closely at their practices to understand what they can do better. There is much to be done, and I feel privileged to be one of the senior leaders working on our company’s response. Microsoft is engaging across a broad range of issues including broadband access, affordable housing, and justice reform. Expanded access to digital skills is an important step in accelerating economic recovery, especially for people hardest hit by job losses. We set a goal of training 25 million people worldwide by the end of 2020 and we reached that important milestone. In addition, Microsoft is providing $5 million in cash grants to community-based nonprofit organizations in the United States that are led by and serve communities of color. I look forward to seeing the impact that these efforts will have on Black and African American people in this country.
It is on every one of us to do the real, hard work that is required to make change. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that human progress comes “through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals.” We have to come together at the federal, state and local level, as well as across the public, private and nonprofit sectors to work relentlessly and be committed for the long haul to expand our opportunities. I am hopeful that we are on the right track.