The Illusion of Colorlessness in Innovation & Technology

photo by  swanksalot

photo by swanksalot

Recently I read, MAKE’ing More Diverse Makers,  about an MIT professor at a conference calling for greater examples of  innovative options and increased visual of what designers look like (in race and gender)  via Make Magazine.

Another piece, How Tech Stays White, looks at the building movement to create an east coast hub of technology and innovation, kind of like Silicon Valley but, “While it’s clear that the number of people of color in Silicon Valley are low, it’s much harder to surface the reasons for those dismal demographics. After some digging, what’s become clear is that there are two kinds of overlapping barriers for people of color seeking a more meaningful involvement in the sector. First, there’s the lack of access to technology, computer science education and venture capital in communities of color. And because of that lack of access, there’s lack of social capital necessary for entrepreneurs of color to get deals done.”

These two articles are just a taste that this is in fact an issue and that I am not crazy.

After reviewing the findings from the latest round of Find the Black People, I sat, still and alone for a minute or two, maybe it was three or five. I exhaled, shook my head, thought what the hell kind of sector am I trying to work in? Maybe this is stupid, impossible, and pointless? I walked away from my laptop, went outside and took a deep breath. Across the street I watched children, dressed for Halloween, trick or treating.

I noticed a young Black girl dressed in what looked like a princess dress and I thought, as she grows will she know and see that she could code and change the world, or lead the group that engineers the next technology revolution? Dismally, I said to myself, no, possibly not, if what I just found is a larger problem in more than just the bay area 67 companies reviewed.  And unfortunately I know, it is.

To be honest, I struggle with the idea that because I point out issues around access, equity and privilege that it is then my job, duty, expectation to develop or at least offer a solution. I take issue with this for many reasons, most of which are that issues of access, equity and privilege are also closely connected to issues of class, power and gender. Lack of privilege, access, and inequity in the sectors of innovation and technology are able to exist because of access differences built by class, power dynamics bolstered by privilege and male dominance suppressing equity. The expectation should not be mine alone but of those too that benefit from (directly or indirectly) and/or seemingly uphold the lack of access to these innovation and technology employment positions.

Yet in our society, when someone points out injustices, it becomes they who are scrutinized, second-guessed and shouted down as complainers not change-makers, and/or stupid not smart. And so, for these and multiple other reasons, I am offering a next step after the Innovation Toolkit and OpenCo rounds of Find The Black People!

As I have previously mentioned, IDEO has this human centered design process for innovative change and invention. On their non-profit side of things found at HCDConnect, their model has been used to help many different communities, meeting many different needs.

Let’s use the model created by the leaders of innovation to explore issues of access, equity and privilege in the current bay area sector of innovation.

Using the Human Centered Design Toolkit….


1)   Define the design challenge à Something like: How can we create a safe space for those in the inner circle with power, access and privilege in the innovation and technology sectors to confront, examine and deconstruct that power, access and privilege?

2)   Choose Research Methods à Interview, individual and group. We need volunteers Know any?

3)   Observation time!!!  Who wants to volunteer their leadership team?


Develop the Approach à I think this group would benefit most from Participatory Co-Design



According to the model, this process doesn’t take very long. So find me some innovation and technology power people and lets get his party started!!!




3 thoughts on “The Illusion of Colorlessness in Innovation & Technology

  1. What kind of team / people are you looking for? Maybe I can make some introductions.

    • I’m not super sure yet but I am thinking this would be a great idea for the new year. I will follow up with you.

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