Designing for Exponential Impact on Diversity in Tech


Mercedes Bent

Mercedes Bent is the Global Director of New Ventures at General Assembly

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on diversity in the tech world, primarily on the need to bridge the gender gap by making tech a more available and welcoming industry for women and men of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

As a Black woman working at a tech education startup, I’m thrilled that these conversations are happening. Reading through statements by companies promising to make diversity a top agenda item, I’ve seen the appalling statistics: Only 24% of engineers graduating from undergrad are female, only 1% of all startup founders are Black, and so on. Great organizations have sprung up to address the dearth of underrepresented groups in tech including: Girl Develop It, Code2040, AllStarsCode, Black Girls Code, and Railsbridge, to name a few.

At General Assembly I’ve had the great privilege of getting to design several parts of our own approach toward diversity in tech. When we first decided that we wanted to begin tackling diversity problems, we reviewed what we’d seen others do in our industry, such as give scholarships to all female students. We agreed that this approach didn’t feel like a comprehensive solution; moreover, it felt inauthentic, as if we were using diversity initiatives to market our classes.

To solve a problem as complex as diversity and inclusion in a meaningful way, we knew we needed a holistic program that touched all aspects of the problem and pushed the agenda forward outside of our own walls.

So the question became: How can we design an initiative that creates exponential impact to solve this social issue? Here is what we came up with:

  • Implement pay-it-forward policies that double down on your cause
  • Engage people already doing the work
  • Bring together two players that don’t normally have contact
  • Address several generations and their perception of the social issue
  • Give donors a voice in the solution

These are the factors that were taken into consideration when designing Opportunity Fund, GA’s scholarship program. Opportunity Fund is unique in its three-pronged approach to solving diversity issues in tech:

1. Change Today

By giving scholarships, we enable diverse populations to access and afford our classes that teach them how to code, design, etc. Recipients agree that the substantial scholarship is the only way they could take our immersive programs, and we change the face of tech, one newbie developer at a time.

2. Change Tomorrow

By raising funds from large companies, we bring the conversation on diversity into employer’s boardrooms. In our fundraising process, our sponsors are required to choose the type of underrepresented group(s) they want to support. This means when big dollars are being allocated, the organization has to consider why they think certain groups should receive these funds and publicly state their commitment to diversity.

3. Change in 10 years

By requiring fellows to pay it forward with volunteering, we teach diverse youth (K-12) how to code, so we help expand access and participation in the future. In return for the scholarship, fellows are required to volunteer 100 hours with non-profit organizations that teach youth to code. We engage great organizations already doing the work and help push their agenda further forward. Our hope is that we eradicate this problem at its root by influencing youth to pursue fields they wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.

I’m confident the Opportunity Fund is a strong, meaningful step toward beginning to solve the issue of diversity in tech, but I know we can’t stop there. I hope that others will take some of our learnings and improve upon them so we can find more ways to provide exponential impact.

Learn more about Opportunity Fund at GA

 This post originally appeared on Mercedes’ blog.