Conversations for Change: Advancing Racial Equity in Tech: A Conversation with Dr. Allison Scott and Dr. Ivory Toldson

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This discussion originally aired on Thursday, March 2, 2023 and included a live Q&A with attendees. Find the full, edited transcript below.

In the second Conversation for Change hosted by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) in 2023, we heard from two leaders at the forefront of advancing racial equity in computing: Dr. Allison Scott, CEO of the Kapor Foundation at the Kapor Center, and Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, the National Director of Education Innovation and Research for the NAACP. The Kapor Center’s work focuses at the intersection of racial justice and technology, and they are committed to fighting for racial justice and creating a more inclusive technology sector. The NAACP is the home of grassroots activism for civil rights and social justice, and has been working to disrupt systemic inequities since 1909. Together, the Kapor Center and the NAACP published “The State of Tech Diversity: The Black Tech Ecosystem,” as a means to offer concrete solutions for improving access and inclusion for Black Americans in tech. In this conversation, we discussed the current landscape and learned more about the each speaker’s individual and collective efforts to positively impact the future of computing.

FULL TRANSCRIPT


DR. JEFFRIANNE WILDER:
Welcome to NCWIT Conversations for Change, an online thought leadership series. My name is Dr. JeffriAnne Wilder, and I work as a Senior Research Scientist and Director of Strategic Initiatives for Women and Girls of Color here at NCWIT. It is my pleasure to welcome you to this series, which features speakers with a diverse range of opinions, and hopefully, provocative ideas and worldviews. 

Dr. Ivory Toldson noted that diversity in tech is a modern civil rights issue. Undoubtedly, since the racial reckoning of 2020, since the murder of George Floyd and many others, discussions about advancing racial equity have been front and center of national and global conversations and action. That is certainly the case across the computing ecosystem. I very much look forward to being able to bring us into conversation today about how we truly advance racial equity in tech. 

But before we kick off today’s conversation, I want to recognize and thank our many NCWIT sponsors and collaborators who are making today’s event possible. I also want to thank you, our viewing audience, in advance for your attendance and patience should we experience any bandwidth or technical issues. 

During the talk today, I encourage you to post your thoughts, questions, and comments on the Q&A board as we go using the Zoom icon at the bottom of your screen. We will be monitoring this and try to get to as many of those questions and comments as we can. And please, of course, complete our short survey at the end of our webinar. 

At this time, I would like to introduce our esteemed panelists: Dr. Toldson and Dr. Scott. Dr. Ivory A Toldson is the National Director of Education, Innovation, and Research for the NAACP, Professor of Counseling Psychology at Howard University, and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Negro Education. Previously, Dr. Toldson was appointed by President Barack Obama to devise national strategies to sustain and expand federal support to HBCUs as the executive director of the White House initiatives on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He also served as president and CEO of the QEM Network and contributing education editor for The Root, where he debunked some of the most pervasive myths about African-Americans in his “Show Me the Numbers” column. Dr. Toldson is also the Executive Director of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Research, which is published by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. He is also the author of Brill best-seller “No BS (or Bad Stats): Black People Need People Who Believe in Black People Enough Not to Believe Every Bad Thing They Hear About Black People.” Dr. Toldson is ranked among the nation’s top education professors, as a member of Education Week’s Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings, which is an annual list recognizing university-based scholars across our nation who are champions in shaping educational practice and policy. Welcome, Doctor Toldson.

DR. IVORY TOLDSON: Thank you.

JEFFRIANNE: Dr. Allison Scott is the CEO of the Kapor Foundation, which focuses at the intersection of racial justice and technology and works to remove barriers in access and opportunity such that the promise and potential of technology can be harnessed to create a more equitable future. At the foundation, Dr. Scott leads a team which works to expand equity in K-12 computer science education, expand diversity within tech companies and venture capital firms, and advance key policies to transform the technology ecosystem. Dr. Scott is currently a principal investigator on multiple national grants to expand equity in computer science education. In her previous role as a Chief Research Officer, she authored foundational research on disparities in tech and equity in CS education, and interventions to improve STEM education outcomes for students of color. Her previous positions included Chief Research Officer at the Kapor Center, Program Leader for the National Institutes of Health enhancing the diversity of the biomedical workforce initiative, Director of Research and Evaluation for the Level Playing Field Institute, and data analysis for The Education Trust West. Dr. Scott holds a PhD in education from the University of California – Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hampton University.

Wow, those are such huge, huge, huge bios! It took me… I am glad I was able to get through them both. So, Allison, Ivory, thank you so much for joining us today. 

IVORY: Thank you.

JEFFRIANNE: Alright, so let’s get started. As you know, we recently closed out Black History Month, and we are now the beginning of Women’s History Month. In that spirit, I think it makes perfect sense for us to start today’s conversation by sharing your stories and engaging with our ancestors. 

So, if we could kick it off, if you could all tell us: Who inspired you to be who you are today? Who struggled, or sacrificed, or encouraged for you to reach your full potential? And, who you would like to thank for your successes?

We’ll start with Dr. Scott. I know that’s a mouthful, but just tell us a bit more about your story and who inspires you.

DR. ALLISON SCOTT: Thanks so much for the invitation to be here with you today. I’m happy to join the panel with my good friend, Dr. Toldson, as well. 

So, whenever I am asked to reflect on my journey, I often think about so many people that have had an influence on me in my life – and even people that have had an influence on my life before I came here. I come from a family of educators; my background is in education. I became passionate about this work because of my parents and my grandfather, who were all in education and taught me many lessons about the value of education; the importance of thinking about disparities – that not all folks have the same equal access to education. They were real, passionate advocates for justice in all realms. 

In terms of my family, they also taught me a lot about my own family’s history. This is a regular topic of conversation, and the sacrifices that they made that drive me, both professionally and personally, to fight for racial equity. My grandparents on my father’s side were part of the Great Migration west from Louisiana out to Seattle, Washington. My grandfather on my mother’s side was injured in World War II, so made a significant sacrifice on behalf of this country. 

Then, along my educational journey, it’s really hard to point to one person – or even a couple people, that have influenced me. But, while I was at Hampton University, I had an amazing mentor, Dr. Reginald Jones, who inspired me to pursue a PhD. I had no idea what a PhD was; did not know anybody with a PhD. He said, “I think you should look into this,” and then helped to create a pathway for me forward. I had an amazing mentor at Berkeley, Dr. Jabari Mahiri, who also ensured that I was able to complete my degree and was incredibly supportive along the way. 

Then, Black women colleagues that I’ve had across organizations who have created informal support networks of supportive mentorship. Then finally, Mitch and Freada Kapor at my current organization, who really center racial equity; they walk the walk, talk the talk, and have supported me for over a decade. So, I’d like to thank all of the folks that I just mentioned.

JEFFRIANNE: Amazing! Okay, Dr. Toldson?

IVORY:  Alright! Thank you so much for having us. I count Allison as a friend – a longtime friend, but I learned so much about you just in these first few minutes. I’d like to share a little bit about my lineage. 

So, on a plantation in Kentucky, probably about 20 years before the Civil War, there was a slave owner who sexually assaulted an African woman who he claimed as his property, and had a son named Granderson Conn. That slave owner relocated from Kentucky to northern Louisiana; took Granderson Conn with him – not as his son, but as his property. He started to have his own children once he relocated to his new location. His biological children went to school, but it was illegal for Granderson to attend school. But, his biological half-siblings came back and taught him everything that they learned in school. 

So, near the beginning of the Civil War, Granderson Conn gained his freedom. He went up north and enlisted in the Union Army, and became a Civil War veteran. He returned to his state of Louisiana, had a daughter who had a son; the son was my grandfather, John Henry Scott, who was the president of the NAACP in Louisiana during the time when the NAACP was illegal. He had a daughter who was a civil rights activist in her own right, my mother, Johnita Scott-Obadele, who led a reparations movement in the 1990s – and here I am today. 

I want to thank my aunt, Cleo Scott Brown, who did all of the research so that I know my history, because it is empowering. I have only had this level of detail for only the last, maybe, three years of my life – but knowing I have two great, great, great grandfathers who fought in the Civil War on the right side of history is something that other children need to know about themselves. 

So, I have had lots of inspirations throughout my schooling and education – too many to list, and I have already taken enough time, but we will talk about that throughout the event. Thank you for allowing us to share our stories. 

JEFFRIANNE: Thank you for sharing that, I think it is so important. It really makes a lot of sense around the paths that you both walk today. I think that is so important, as you mentioned Dr. Toldson, for folks of African descent to really know their story going back several generations. There are a lot of us who don’t have that ability, or that good fortune. It also lets us know who we are capable of becoming, right? It makes perfect sense to see how and why you all are doing the work you do. 

With that, if you could all share a little bit more about the organizations that you are a part of? I know you both are involved in so many things, but Dr. Scott, if you could tell us a bit more about the Kapor Center and the work that you do? And then, Dr. Toldson? 

ALLISON: Absolutely! Happy to share – and Dr. Toldson, after this webinar, I’m going to have to compare notes with you to see if we have some family connections down in Louisiana. 

IVORY: Louisiana, right! 

ALLISON: The Kapor Center, which Dr. Wilder mentions, focuses at the intersection of racial justice and technology, working to hopefully make the tech ecosystem more diverse, inclusive, and impactful for communities of color. We are really driven by the notion that we believe technology holds great promise and potential to close long-standing inequality, but its potential can only be realized when the creators of technology – the entrepreneurs, the investors, and the leaders of these companies – actually reflect the diversity of the United States. As we’ll talk a little bit more about the report that we released last year, we have a long way to go in closing these racial equity gaps. 

At the foundation specifically, we operate STEM education programs for high school students of color. We work significantly in the CS education space. We recently published a framework on culturally responsive computer science education. So, we are working to change the way that we think about curriculum, professional development, teacher training, and how to actually close racial equity gaps in computer science education through those mechanisms. We also produce research on the tech landscape. Then on the foundation side, we support organizations and initiatives that are advancing equity in computer science, in pathways to tech jobs, and the workforce, and also investing in seed-stage entrepreneurs that are designing products to close gaps of access and opportunity. 

Just a few more points: Last year, we published research in collaboration with the NAACP and Dr. Toldson on the Black Tech Ecosystem. We also published research on the CS teacher landscape, and have been working to implement some of the practices from the culturally-responsive computer science framework that I mentioned earlier. Then towards the end of the year, we launched an equitable tech policy initiative which outlines nine policy priorities that we believe will help to ensure the participation and protection of communities of color in tech. 

IVORY: Yeah. So, I am a professor at Howard University. The HU; all those in the audience – HU! I can hear it. 

ALLISON: Okay, wait a second… 

JEFFRIANNE: Uh oh…

IVORY: I have been at Howard since 2005, in the Counseling Psychology program of the School of Education. We are a majority graduate program; we have one undergraduate program in the entire college, but we mostly train masters- and PhD-level students for careers in education and in human development, including counseling and psychology, school psychology, educational psychology, and things like that. 

I am also the Director of Education, Innovation, and Research for the NAACP. I’ve been in this role for about a year and a half now. This is a division of the strategy office; so, we have a Chief Strategy Officer, and we have several focus areas that are in our strategy office. Education is one of them. Some of the others: criminal justice, environmental justice, and health advocacy – but we all follow a seven-point advocacy model. 

One is mobilizing. So, this is the events that we do when we bring people together. We mobilize the community for a specific action to affect change. This might come through protest, through rallies, through different campaigns. 

The second point is researching. So, we have a research arm. We conduct research to better understand different issues and also understand opportunities for change. 

Litigation is another strategy. This is where we take legal action against bad actors; people who aren’t working on behalf of civil rights or are working against civil rights. 

Storytelling: This is where we leverage the media to share stories about those who are most impacted by unjust policies. 

Convening: This is through our state and national convention, and other types of conferences. 

The final one is training. This is where we provide opportunities to our members to be trained on specific aspects of advocacy. This may be training related to helping them to reach out to members of Congress, or training related to use of data to advance civil rights. That’s a specific training that I will be conducting in New Orleans at the end of this month. So, that is some of the work we have been engaged in. 

JEFFRIANNE: Wonderful. So, I think over the past few years, there have been a lot of buzzwords that people use all of the time, but they really don’t know what they really mean. Right? Terms like diversity, equity, and inclusion, and Critical Race Theory – we will talk more about that in the second, have been just thrown around, right? People have, sometimes, really visceral reactions to them without really, truly understanding what that means. 

When we talk about racial equity, what does that mean? Why is an explicit focus on racial equity so important, particularly when it comes to the tech ecosystem? And, what do you feel is currently missing and that broader landscape of representation? 

ALLISON: Would you like me to start? 

JEFFRIANNE: You know what? I realized I did not say who’d like to start, so feel free to jump on in! 

ALLISON: Sure! I think it’s a really important point about making sure that we have the right definitions as we are talking about the work that we are aiming to do; articulating both our definitions and the frameworks that we’re using as we are trying to identify solutions. From my perspective, having an understanding of the definition of racial equity really means being grounded in definitions of racism that articulate both individual and systemic racism. I feel that trips people up a lot of times when we get to the discussion around systemic racism. 

So, what I mean by that is: based on both current and historical policies and practices, that there have been systemic exclusion of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous folks from education, the workforce, owning property, etc. – in every realm and every aspect. I feel like starting with that definition is really important, and then, moving from there to understanding that where the current disparities have come from is such a critical piece. I know we will talk about that a little bit more as well. 

What I think is missing is a shared framework for understanding why we are where we are. Then, when we talk about disparities in the tech sector, we didn’t just get to Google having 2% of their workforce being Black by some accident. It didn’t just happen this way, but there are a lot of systems and structures. 

We talk about the leaky tech pipeline framework, which is one way to articulate from K-12 or even before K-12, all the way through postsecondary, the hiring process they use in the tech workforce, all the way to the investors that are investing in the next companies, there are biases and barriers embedded throughout. So, I think it helps. From my perspective, it is helpful to have a clear grounding and understanding of why disparities exist to be able to tackle some of the solutions. 

IVORY: Yeah, I agree. This is a very important question in this time where so many challenges are happening under the guise of anti-CRT. It is interesting that when they first started attacking Critical Race Theory, they were making it seem like it was just about that particular theory – but we see them pivoting now to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

In fact, the one who started this whole thing – Christopher Rufo, a conservative strategist – he recently tweeted that it’s time for them to do the pivot from CRT to DEI. So now, they are coming after the core of what we’ve spent decades making mainstream, and making it almost to the point where it’s unacceptable not to have a good diversity, equity, and inclusion program. So, you know these are things that we really have to be on guard and to protect. 

And I think Allison, when she talked about people not getting the systemic part, I think she is spot on. The ones who are attacking this, they want to make it seem like it is about isolated cases of individual bad actors, but we have tried colorblind approaches in the past. What we see is that colorblind approaches just don’t work, and it’s not just about individuals. It’s something that is baked into the system. 

There was an article that I came across, and this was from 1970, because I was trying to see how long we’ve been talking about systemic racism; racism on a systemic level. In this article from 1970, they said, “White racism is fundamentally the assumption that being white is superior to being non-white. While few whites today would argue for biological superiority, most whites assume a cultural, social and personal superiority. White racism is woven into the fabric of American society and is used to justify the privilege of whites and the disadvantage of non-whites.” 

So, a lot of people are positioning these arguments as something new – but 1970! You know? This has been, and this was a multiracial coalition of religious leaders who wrote this in their report. Ideas like white privilege, systemic racism, and some of the concepts that’s associated with Critical Race Theory are things that have been established through research and lived experiences for a half-century or more. We have to understand it as something that is not up for debate, but something that’s firmly established in who we are as a society, and something that we will probably take as long to correct as it took to bake it into the system. 

JEFFRIANNE: You know, my mom – who is 75 years old – always says, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

IVORY: Mhm. 

JEFFRIANNE:  You guys are absolutely right. I think it’s important that we situate racial equity in why it’s so important. Right? We have to talk about the socio-historical context connected to that. You know that a lot of the things that we’re seeing, particularly now, the backlash to racial equity, DEI, and all of those things –it is not new, to your point Dr. Toldson. 

You know what? I am going to go ahead and skip some things on my agenda and move right to this next question because we are kind of already going there. Let’s just talk about what’s happening in the state of Florida and how organizations can respond. So, if there is anyone who is part of this audience who, right now, is connecting Florida to Disney, and for some reason you haven’t been a part of the news lately, let me kind of just get you up to speed really quickly. 

I think that we cannot get through one news cycle in 24 hours without hearing about something happening in the state of Florida. We know that recently, over the past couple of years in particular, the governor of Florida has started to enact statewide policy aimed at ending not only DEI initiatives – and we saw that effectively in that New College of Florida just yesterday, but also claiming that the new AP African American Studies exam is not educational and attempting to defund a lot of DEI initiatives at the university level and also within K-12. 

We also know there are some folks who are concerned because what is happening in Florida could be seen as a blueprint for what is going to happen in other states very soon, particularly states like South Carolina, Texas, and others. So, given all of that – and we are not really here to debate what’s happening in Florida or to talk anything negatively about the governor, per se, but the question is how should organizations like Kapor Center and NAACP, and NCWIT – national organizations – respond to these types of challenges? Is it a barrier, or is it really just noise? 

ALLISON: I would love Dr. Toldson to go first, and then I am happy to chime in. 

JEFFRIANNE: Yes! We’re going to toss it to you, Dr. Toldson. 

IVORY: Yeah. So, you know there are some dynamics in Florida that we really have to keep a close watch on, but I think that what we are seeing is a governor who is trying to position himself on a national stage and deliberately doing things that’s going to give him national attention as opposed to local or state attention. He’s pandering to Trump voters who may be looking for an alternative. So, the question always becomes, from an advocacy standpoint: How much do we want to give him the attention that he is craving by responding to everything that he does? And that’s always a touchy situation because he is doing some things that’s causing a lot of harm, but he’s doing it to get attention. 

One of the things when it comes to that seven-point advocacy, I think of things like the lawsuits. So, the NAACP, we have been looking for potential plaintiffs in Florida who are harmed by these policies; students who don’t have access, who won’t have access to critical learning material. Or maybe, people who work at universities who are getting extra harassment and scrutiny. Litigation is going to be something that’s very important. 

There needs to be a lot of grassroots organizing in Florida. Because one of the reasons why he is able to do the things he is doing is because of some of the wounds that the Democratic party in Florida has. You know we are a nonpartisan organization, but when you have this unchecked rhetoric? So, we are talking about a state that went for Obama twice, and then, a governor who won his first race by only – you know he won by, maybe, 10,000 votes. But since then, because of some of the things that happened within the Democratic Party and the leadership there, there is not a lot of opposition to him. So, you know the coalition that Stacy Abrams was able to build in Georgia? That effectively could have some counterbalance, to be able to fight some of the policies that the governor there might be trying to enact by supporting local, down-ballot races. We don’t see as much of that in Florida.

So, I think a lot of that needs to happen, and I think there needs to be some thesis of this. I think there needs to be a lot of more quiet campaigns to try to undermine the things that he is doing, and perhaps less loud, visible oppositions where you are going to get into a national debate with someone who is looking for that kind of attention. 

JEFFRIANNE: Thank you. Dr. Scott? 

ALLISON: So much to build on here! Great points by Dr. Toldson. So, a slightly different direction and tangent, but I promise I’ll connect the dots. I had my own lived experience, obviously as a Black woman – but it wasn’t until I got to Berkeley and started studying the decades of scholarship around the articulation of racial inequality and education… So, all of the frameworks that are being discussed – CRT, culturally-responsive computing – understanding systems and definitions of racism, it wasn’t until I had that grounding that it really helped me to understand, as I was saying earlier, how to articulate what the problems are and how to try to attack those problems with effective solutions. I say that to say that’s why I think it is so critical that all of us are learning this content. Of course, that was in grad school. We’re not talking about kindergartners learning Critical Race Theory, but it was such a critical element of my own educational journey. 

Then two years ago, we published the Culturally Responsive Computer Science Framework. That was before or right around the time of George Floyd’s murder. There was a lot of interest in thinking more deeply about how do we infuse culturally-responsive concepts throughout computer science. One of the key tenets of that framework, the first key tenet, is to acknowledge racial inequality in education. That has now become a really hot-button issue, I guess. So, that has become a contentious topic in teacher training, and in curriculum, and in states where aligned allies in education are also worried that they cannot use this framework with their teachers, or in their schools, because of potential implications – very real implications – on their jobs, etc. 

So, I think one of your questions was what should organizations be doing? I think it’s really important that organizations that are focused on equity, and that have equity at the core, don’t back down from the fight. I think that there are many ways we can continue to keep moving forward; to understand what some of the legal constraints are, but to still articulate why we think these elements are so impactful and important for or in our work. 

Then, the last thing is something Ivory said about grassroots campaigns and activism. I think there’s a lot that can be done just by parents, and students, and teachers standing up and saying what they think is important; what parents want their students to learn, and what students want to learn, and what teachers feel like they should be teaching in their classrooms. So, I think there is a lot of potential on just the grassroots activism side. Let’s not forget that on the opposition’s side, that was an organized strategy around showing up to school board meetings and fighting against things like equity and culturally-responsive education. I think there is a lot we can do on the other side as well. 

JEFFRIANNE: Really, really important. Okay, so let’s talk about how the two of you and your organizations joined forces. This year at NCWIT, we have been very intentional about cultivating and sustaining partnerships because we recognize how valuable a good partner can be – particularly when it comes to solving societal problems. So, if you all could tell us – and you know, I think I’m going to toss it to you first, Dr. Scott: Tell us how you both decided to join forces to work on this report, and to really work on really amplify how important it is to advance racial equity in tech? 

ALLISON: Yes! So, we are incredibly grateful to have this partnership with NAACP, and it has been cultivated over many years. I think, just going back from our perspective, the role of the NAACP in the Black community cannot be understated. Right? The amount of progress that’s been made through that organization’s leadership in organizing, and activism, and legislation has been absolutely amazing. So we thought, and all along, we’ve been approaching the partnership as if there is no better organization serving the Black community. If they can also work with us on the tech side, then you know, joining forces, it could be very powerful. 

Just over the years, we’ve done things like sharing information and partnering on campaigns. We have also partnered… From our organization, we are focused on diversity in tech, and not necessarily on civic engagement and grassroots, like get out the vote campaigns; however, we saw if we want to actually make change in some of these critical areas around CS education, around holding tech companies accountable, ensuring that Black folks are able to register to vote and turn out to vote is critical. So, we partnered on some political campaigns as well. 

We are super excited to partner on the report, because I think it articulates the importance of having an organization focused on tech and an organization focused on civil rights and the Black community to partner together to say, “These are the challenges that are currently facing the Black community as it relates to the the tech workforce, and here is a set of solutions that we want to collectively advocate for.” So, we’ve been really excited to have that partnership. 

 JEFFRIANNE: Dr. Toldson, what does this partnership mean to you? 

IVORY: Yeah. So, Kapor has been the driving force behind the partnership. Even prior to me coming to the NAACP, I’ve had some intersections with the Kapor Center. We have an NSF grant that worked with HBCUs in STEM, and really looking at how HBCUs became such robust producers of STEM talent. One of our PIs, Cynthia Overton, is someone who is working at the Kapor Center. I know she has an executive level role. I forget the exact title, but it was through there I had a partnership with Kapor even before I got to the NAACP. 

I’ve been to the Kapor Center. They hosted a book signing for me there of the book that you mentioned with the long title: “Black People Need People Who Believe in Black People Enough Not to Believe Every Bad Thing they Hear About Black People.” That’s the title. I had to practice that. 

So, when I got to the NAACP and I learned that the Kapor Center was writing this report, it was something that they didn’t have to ask me twice to lead it on the NAACP side. And as I looked at the statistics that they generated, and had conversations with Kapor about: What does this mean for Black people? That’s when it really hit me that this is a civil rights issue. This is a modern-day civil rights issue. As many other things, as the workforce has evolved, the civil rights issues have evolved. This is an issue that has emerged and is something that we really need to do something about – now, with urgency. 

JEFFRIANNE: Alright. Well, we are moving right along in the conversation, and our Q&A is blowing up. I want to make sure that we are able to respond to some of the questions that our audience has, but before we do that, I have one other question that I would like to ask both of you. It kind of bookends the opening question about your stories and who inspired you to think more about…

You know, sometimes I have to look at, really do a double take with the calendar. It’s hard to believe that it’s 2023, because I still feel like I am 20 years old, right? But, let’s go back 20 years, shall we? To 2003. I am going to assume that you all were in your 20s, or early 20s and mid-20s. Something like that, right? Or, maybe 13 and 14, right? You were 13 and 14. What advice would you give your twenty-something-year-old self? Let’s start with you, Allison. 

ALLISON: Okay! This is such a good question. I think professional advice I would give my 20-year-old self, and also I have given to others has been: to really just find your passion. So, so often, I feel like we are guided in a certain direction. We have these messages in our heads about either making money, or being successful. You know, that might drive us off of a path that we actually want to be on. So, I would say: Find your passion, and let that drive you.

So often, people come and say, “Can you give me advice?” about “should I get a PhD?” I am always like, “Well, why do you want a PhD? What’s the purpose? Is this part of something that you greatly value, and that you feel can accelerate the impact of the change that you want to have in the world?” I would say: “Find your passion, and let that drive you” – as opposed to any other consideration.

Then, personally, I would just say, “Time flies!” As you said, Dr. Wilder. So, enjoy it! Take time to enjoy it. Look around, and not always be so driven on a professional pathway that we don’t take time to enjoy, like you know, the beauty that surrounds us. Or, spend time traveling, or spend time with your parents and family members. That’s not always going to be there. 

IVORY: Yeah. There are a few things that stick out to me. Focus on what you want to do, not what you want to be. Too many people get hung up on titles. “I want to be this; I want to be that,” but you really do need to think about what you want to do. Because if you’re doing what you love, it doesn’t matter. You know the title doesn’t matter. 

Another thing I would say is to always appreciate where you are. You know, in whatever station you are – if you are at Berkeley, if you’re at Hampton, if you’re at Howard, if you’re at Southern University, represent that institution. Be a good steward of that institution. Learn about that institution, and always work on behalf of an institution, not on behalf of a person. 

Work for an institution, not a person. So, you may be given directives from a person, but you need to understand how those directives fit in with the mission of that organization. And if you don’t understand that, then there needs to be a conversation, and you need to do some level setting and perspective setting. Because you really do need to, in order to produce for an organization, you have to have that perspective. 

The last thing I’ll say is: There are two things that you can contribute to any organization that you are with. One is your thoughts, and the other is your labor. Your labor can always be replaced, but your thoughts can’t. If you leave the organization, your labor stays there. At least, the fruit of your labor stays there, but your thoughts go with you. So, you always want to position yourself in an organization to where you’re not just providing labor, but you want to try to prime yourself, when you are young, to really think about how you can… How your thoughts can be the greatest contribution you are making to an organization. 

JEFFRIANNE: The both of you are giving me some really good advice for 2023 that my 46-year-old self loved and will start to really take to heart. 

We have lots of questions in our Q&A! Also, to our audience members, if you want to ask questions or have comments, go ahead and drop those in the Q&A right now. I’m going to start with the first question. It is for Allison. 

To Allison: So many things! Is there any work that you or other groups do that target middle schools, specifically girls and students of color in 6th through 8th grades – and/or educators in the middle school? 

ALLISON: Yeah! Thank you so much for the question. So, there is some work that we’re doing – and I’ll talk really briefly about that, but there’s a lot of amazing organizations doing a lot of amazing work. 

So, I have a colleague, Frieda McAlear, who is doing work with schools that specifically serve Indigenous students in working on developing curriculum in collaboration with teachers and with community members that is completely culturally aligned. So, that’s some really interesting pilot work that’s happening across a couple states. We also, through the framework that I mentioned earlier, have partnerships with a bunch of organizations who are trying to implement the culturally-responsive framework in their teacher training. Some of them are for middle schoolers; some of them are for high schoolers. 

And there are just a ton of organizations, like Girls Who Code, Code.org. The Hidden Genius Project is more focused on Black boys, but at the same age range. Oh, and I should also shout out Dr. Kimberly Scott, who has led CompuGirls at Arizona State University for many years, and I believe their programs are still going through the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology. Those are just a few examples, but thank you for the question. 

JEFFRIANNE: Alright, I have a question here, specifically for Dr. Toldson. 

Dr. Toldson, you mentioned about a pivot from CRT to DEI at the highest leadership level, and we need to be on our guard about that. Could you clarify? What’s the pivoting that’s going on? 

IVORY: So, the conservative think tanks that orchestrated this CRT hysteria, the ones that have created this kind of McCarthyism around CRT and made it the latest bogeyman – they have announced that they are pivoting from focusing on CRT to DEI. They like the way that this has landed. 

Strategically, I think they knew that targeting DEI from jump street wasn’t the right move. Because diversity, equity and inclusion are things that – you know, that sounds good. It resonates well. 

And in everything that they’ve done that they’ve made public, somewhat, they did talk about how CRT sounds. You know, just the “critical” part of it, “race,” “theory” makes it seem academic, and highbrow, and someone talking down on you. They wrote about this. Christopher Rufo wrote about the CRT strategy, but he has just announced that because of the success of CRT, he is ready to focus on, and direct all of the minions around him to focus on, or to pivot from, CRT to dismantling DEI programs. 

So, what’s going to be our strategy? How are we going to protect diversity, equity and inclusion? Because they are coming for these programs next. 

JEFFRIANNE: Okay, we’re going to pivot a little bit. One audience member asks: Do either of you have any advice for talent acquisition teams who want to tap into the underrepresented talent in the tech industry? 

IVORY: I really like responding to this question. So, the first thing that’s absolutely important is for the talent acquisition team to answer the questions: Why do you want underrepresented talent, and what type of underrepresented talent do you want? And, to be more specific about type: Are you looking for underrepresented talent that have the same background, perspectives, persona, experiences as the well-represented talent that you already have? Do you just want the Black person from what you consider the top institution? Or the Latina who has a profile that, if you remove the name, you would think you were looking at a white person. Is that what you want? Are you looking for someone that can bring a completely different perspective to your organization? What are your organization’s needs, and how do you think diversity will fit those needs? 

If you don’t go through that exercise, your default position will be to take the type of talent that you already know; that you have already, that’s already been baked in your head, and try to find someone of color or some other underrepresented background that fits that mold – and that will do very little for your organization. It will also limit your talent pool considerably, because that will make you say, “Well, I haven’t heard of HBCUs, so I’m not going to recruit from HBCUs – but I have heard of Berkeley, and Stanford, and these places, so I’m going to try to find that Black person at Stanford.” That’s why that Black person at Stanford is getting all of these offers, because everybody wants them; not because of their perspective, but because of their color.  So, we can’t profile when it comes to that. 

When you do that , you will find that you greatly open up your talent pool because you really are looking for talent. You’re looking for true, authentic, diverse talent. That talent is out there. 

ALLISON: If I could just add one thing, because I think that was absolutely perfect. The only thing I would add is to start with an audit of the processes. Right? So, thinking about talent acquisition from identification of job description, to recruitment pools and strategies, to the actual hiring process, and interview process, and decision-making – doing an audit of that, and trying to identify where there are specific biases baked in. 

Dr. Toldson just mentioned one that stands out a lot in hiring in tech, which is going with pedigree as a proxy for skill. So, “I know of this university; that equates to a high-performing computer engineering major.” That’s not at all accurate or true, but that is a bias that is baked into the process in many places. I would say starting with an audit of the processes, and then, I agree that it totally opens up the talent pool. 

Something else we talk a lot about is nontraditional pathways into tech jobs. So, things like boot camps and apprenticeship programs – just different ways that folks can develop skills and demonstrate skills, but the employer has to be willing to hire folks that have outcomes from nontraditional pathways as well. 

JEFFRIANNE: Okay! We are getting close on time. I think we have enough time to get to, maybe, get to two more questions. 

So, this next quick question is for Allison and Dr. Scott: What is your perspective on the CSTA Equity Fellows‘ recent call to action? “Can you really be an ally and advocate for historically excluded communities if you stand in direct opposition to the equitable treatment of people in those communities?” 

Oh, that’s a good one! 

ALLISON: I so appreciate that question. I have many thoughts, but I will be brief so we can get to the other question as well. I greatly appreciate the CSTA Equity Fellows for calling attention to this issue. 

So, what they were articulating was: How do we hold two things at the same time? If we say we are fighting for equity in computer science education, how can we actively fight against equity and other realms?” I think that is a question that the CS education community is now being forced to reckon with – and I think that is a good thing that we need to reckon with. We need to reckon with this. 

Where I would love for us go, and I what would like to see, is that we – as a group – articulate what we want the next 10 years of computer science education equity to look like; not computer science education broadly, not computer science for all that doesn’t center equity and specifically closing racial equity gaps. So, that’s what I would love to see. Again, I am just really thankful that the CSTA Equity Fellows called this out, and articulated it, and made such an important point. 

JEFFRIANNE: Okay. Last question for Dr. Toldson. Following up on the comment about bringing your personal thoughts and experiences to an organization as a young professional, could you go a little more in depth about how you personally leveraged that for yourself, and how a young Black professional can do the same in the higher ed government relations space to create an equitable system. 

IVORY: Okay. That’s a good question. So, the first thing you want to do is to represent your organization. I kind of talked about that before, but whoever you’re working for, wear the lapel, wear the sweatshirt on dress-down Fridays, get the mug, and talk about the mission and where you see the organization going, how the organization could work on behalf of people that they may not be serving well. 

So, you want to have pride in the organization that is demonstrated and palatable, but you also want to talk about, share ideas about, how to leverage the organization and do more. People will listen to you more because they know that you are coming from a place of, “I want to build the organization; I’m not tearing down the organization.” You can criticize someone better when you know that you love them. So, you want to express your love for the organization; then, you want to criticize it. 

Then, you want to start thinking about what your moment is going to be. Typically, people’s moment is when they bring a lot of people together. Some organizations lend themselves better to that than others, but if you can create an event for your organization? If you say, “Listen, this organization needs to hear from such and such. This organization needs to hear from Allison Scott. I heard her on this panel, so I’m going to reach out to Kapor.” Sorry for doing this to you, Allison. I do not want you to get a whole bunch of invites now, but you get the point.  

You want to try to create moments at the organization. You can start with small moments, but you want that big moment too. You want that moment where there is impact. It’s something that you’re seen as being a part of and central to it, and something that really helps the organization to do the things that it’s supposed to do. A lot of people aren’t doing that, but when the organization has that person, they do not want to let them go – and they are often being poached by other organizations. 

That goes to your second question: How did you leverage that for yourself personally? That’s exactly what I’ve done throughout my career. I never go into an organization thinking what the next organization is going to be. I go into an organization thinking that I am going to retire from that organization, and that I have pride in that organization. Even if there is F’d up people all around me, all I have to do is look at the mission of the organization. There are changes I want to make that’s consistent with the mission, and that is what I am fighting for for that organization. So, that’s the advice I would give. 

JEFFRIANNE: Very sage advice. Any final words from Dr. Scott or Dr. Toldson as we round out our conversation this morning/afternoon? 

Alright! Well, I would like to thank everyone – particularly, again, our esteemed panelists for joining us today. We learned so much about not only your stories, but how we really can leverage our moment to advance racial equity in tech. I would also like to thank you all in our audience; thank you for joining us and being a part of today’s discussion. 

I’d also like to thank our sponsors – and of course, please do not forget to complete the survey, which is accessible on the QR code here up on the slide or at the link that is going to be in the chat in a moment. We at NCWIT will follow up with an email with the links and the resources that Dr. Toldson and Dr. Scott shared – and please, save the date for our in-person and virtual summit coming up May 18 and 19th in Denver if you want to hear more inspiring conversations like this one. 

Thank you so much for joining us today! We wish you all a wonderful end of your week, and an even better Women’s History Month. Thanks for joining us. 

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