I often find myself at Salesforce—a leading San Francisco technology company—looking out the window at the Bay, remembering the little girl who used to dream of this view. Growing up, I always knew I could work in one of these gleaming office buildings but only, as my mom always told me, if I studied hard and took my education seriously.
My mom did everything she could to ensure I received the best education possible. She knew that, especially as a person of color, attending a good school would determine my future. Because of my mother’s foresight and sacrifices, I was fortunate to be able to travel out of my neighborhood, where schools were underfunded, and attend a school which taught me the skills I needed to build a successful career.
I am grateful for the opportunities that lead to my success and I've since made it my personal mission to help other children gain access to the education they need to succeed, regardless of where they live. It’s why I’ve made my career at salesforce.org, the philanthropic arm of Salesforce, where I lead our education initiatives and partnerships with local districts and schools around the world.
Today we are facing a unique challenge. The booming technology industry presents many exciting economic opportunities for the next generation. However, without access to the education and training needed to succeed in these new jobs, many risk being left behind. While computing jobs are likely to more than double by 2020, underrepresented minorities currently earn only 11% of engineering degrees and women earn only 17% of computer and information sciences degrees.
The problem starts with K-12 education. Currently, only 22% of 12th graders say they’ve ever taken a computer science course. By that time, it’s already too late. Without any computer science experience, students are unlikely to take a course in a STEM field in college, let alone major in it.
Exposure to STEM education early on is key to empowering more women and people of color to embark on the careers that are defining the future. This becomes even more apparent to me when our organization brings local middle school students to our offices and tech conferences. The students’ eyes light up and questions start to pour out of their mouths. For many of them, this is the first experience they’ve had with a technology company, despite living mere miles from some of the most innovative companies in the country.
As I see it, the tech industry is well-positioned to take action in ensuring every child in their community has access to STEM education. We all have the ability to use our platforms to create a path toward a more equitable future by adopting schools, volunteering our time, and investing in local STEM organizations. At Salesforce, we’ve done this through our Circle the Schools program, where various departments adopt a school and volunteer regularly. We’ve also partnered with organizations like Coder Dojo and Self-eSTEM to bring coding to students.
I challenge all companies and leaders to think about the impact they can have on their communities and future workplaces by supporting their local schools. Beyond the societal impact, there is real business value in committing to education. When we change the faces of education, we change the future faces of our companies and create cultures of innovation, close skills gaps, and better understand our diverse customers. Whether it be adopting a public school, volunteering time, donating money or providing technology and infrastructure, anyone can make a difference in their local communities and help bring equality to the tech world.