The Iron Yard launches $45M fund to boost diversity in tech industry

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Greenville-based coding school The Iron Yard announced Friday that it has partnered with Code Fellows and Operation HOPE to launch the Tech Opportunity Fund – an attempt to boost diversity in the technology industry, which employs a low number of African-American and Hispanic workers and suffers from a wide gender gap.

Over the next five years, the Tech Opportunity Fund (TOF) aims to distribute $100 million in scholarships to women and minorities. Those scholarship recipients will also attend coding school, learn financial literacy and receive entrepreneurship training.

The Iron Yard has committed $40 million in full-tuition scholarships to all its campuses, including its Greenville, Charleston and Columbia campuses. Also, the Seattle-based coding school Code Fellows has committed $5 million in full-tuition scholarships, while nonprofit Operation HOPE will provide financial literacy and entrepreneurship training.

To reach the $100 million goal, The Iron Yard, Code Fellows and Operation HOPE plan to partner with coding schools, employee education programs, civic organizations and others who can provide funding for scholarships and other educational resources.

“To maximize the potential of the tech industry, we must maximize the potential of a diverse tech workforce,” said Peter Barth, CEO of The Iron Yard. “The Tech Opportunity Fund builds off of the momentum generated by innovative initiatives like TechHire to ensure Americans of all backgrounds have access to tech training programs.”

The technology industry has long suffered from a lack of diversity in its workforce, which is predominantly white, Asian, and male. On average, women comprise about one-third of the tech workforce, according to a 2015 Fortune survey, which was conducted at nine Silicon Valley tech companies. And women held only 29 percent of the leadership roles at the most diverse company – Airbnb.

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The technology industry also suffers from a lack of ethnic diversity.

Google reported its workforce data last summer. That data revealed that 60 percent of its employees are white and 31 percent are Asian. Latinos comprised three percent and African-Americans only made up two percent. But Google isn’t the only company dealing with the issue.

Between Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter, technical workers are on average 56 percent white, 37 percent Asian, 3 percent Hispanic and 1 percent African-American, according to the companies’ latest diversity reports. Some companies blame a lack of minority students graduating with the required degrees – computer science and engineering.

“Appropriate representation in technology or any other industry will depend upon more people having the opportunity to gain necessary skills through the public education system,” Facebook’s head of diversity Maxine Williams said in a statement.

Among graduates with a bachelor’s degree or advanced degree in computer science and engineering, 57 percent are white, 26 percent are Asian, 8 percent are Hispanic and 6 percent are African-American, according to American Community Survey data.

Technology companies are adopting a similar approach to combat the lack of diversity in the industry. Last year, Intel said it would put $60 million a year toward diversity efforts for the next five years, or about $300 million. And Apple pledged $50 million to non-profits, including the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

In July, Facebook announced a $15 million donation to Code.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating opportunities for minorities and women in the computer science industry.

The Iron Yard is hoping to do more than just provide education.

In addition to providing scholarships, The Iron Yard, Code Fellows and Operation HOPE plan to partner with city governments and civic organizations across the country to help scholarship recipients receive affordable housing, counseling and transportation.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution that will increase access to tech education and improve diversity in the workforce,” said Barth. “The Tech Opportunity Fund approaches these issues holistically and coordinates local and national resources to provide students with both academic opportunity and the support system they need to be successful.”

TOF scholarship applications will open by Jan. 2017. To receive a scholarship, applicants must first be accepted into a participating code school through that program’s standard admissions process, according to The Iron Yard.

After being accepted into a school, students must apply for a TOF scholarship through the website, techopportunityfund.org. Scholarships will be awarded to qualified students on a first come, first served basis.

For more information, visit theironyard.com.

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