on 12-13-2021 09:15 AM - edited on 12-29-2021 01:38 PM by RoseSpitzer
Now more than ever, access to technology is crucial for the health and economic stability of individuals and communities. The digital divide is larger than access to broadband or technology. Achieving real equity involves addressing issues of inclusivity (including affordability and equity of access), institutions, and digital proficiency.
Companies can play a key role in addressing these issues. In partnership with Tides.org, we invited our friends from Salesforce, Year Up, and Twitter to discuss strategies for bridging the digital divide.
Jennifer Stredler, the Vice President of Workplace Development at Salesforce.org, shared the company's approach to reaching across the digital divide to find untapped talent.
The Problem of Knowledge
To get a job, a person doesn't just need to have access to technology, they need to know what types of jobs actually exist in the industry. If a person doesn't have industry knowledge or social capital, they might not be aware of what jobs are out there.
Salesforce's 3-Pronged Model
Salesforce uses a three-pronged model to address the digital divide challenge:
The first prong, Philanthropy and Grant Making, involves direct donations to nonprofits. Salesforce supports organizations that expose young people to all the careers that are out there (especially in the tech space). They also focus on nonprofits that teach hard technical skills and softer professional skills to connect people with jobs. Some organizations that they support include Genesys Works and Braven.
The second prong, Hiring, involves employing people at Salesforce. The company has professional development programs ranging from 6 months to 3 years — all with the goal of full-time employment. Programs also include continuing support and enablement initiatives, such as speaker series and boot camps. So far, it's been successful! Through these programs, Salesforce has employed over 1,000 untapped talent individuals.
The third prong, employee volunteering, involves recruiting employees to help support nonprofits. Workers can participate in one-time events or longer programs. Read more about how to start an employee volunteering program here.
Stredler and her team are continuously learning how to make their program stronger. She summarizes the lessons learned as follows:
Ellen McClain, Chief Operating Officer at YearUp, has spent seven years at this nonprofit. Year Up helps young people from untapped backgrounds get white-collar jobs. Your company can support this initiative by visiting Year Up's corporate partner page.
Think Skills, Not Credentials
Year Up reports that there are approximately 12 million open entry-level white-collar jobs open, and over 5 million bright young adults who are disconnected from them due to systematic barriers. They call this gap the "opportunity divide."
McClain challenges employers to shift their hiring practices from credentials-focused to skills-focused.
The biggest opportunity for change? Removing a college degree requirement for entry-level jobs.
When a company requires a four-year degree, they automatically exclude many people, especially brown and black people, who face systematic barriers to college. McClain argues that a broader talent pool is likely capable of meeting your needs.
Learn Where Additional Wrap-around Support is Needed
Bridging the digital divide isn't as easy as training and hiring individuals. Many individuals face other issues, such as transportation, food insecurity, childcare, or a lack of supplies that can prevent them from doing their job. For example, if an employee during the pandemic doesn't have a laptop, how can they work remotely effectively?
The social contract between employer and employee is changing. Consider offering programs that can provide employees with this kind of wrap-around support. Year Up, for example, employs social workers to help their students navigate various government aid programs.
Caroline Barelin, founder of Platypus Advisors, previously worked in Social Impact at Twitter. While she worked there, the very wealthy social media company had its headquarters in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood - one of the poorest in the city.
Twitter wanted to build a computer lab to help people in the community get on their feet. But rather than just start building, the team reached out to members of the community to discover the biggest challenges that they faced. The worked with on-the-ground organizations such as Compass Family Services.
It turns out that many experiencing homelessness in the area were families. The largest barrier to their success was finding available childcare. Therefore, Twitter decided to build Twitter Neighbor Nest: a community childcare center with a built-in computer lab. This program led with the community's needs (childcare), then promoted their initiative (digital literacy and access).
Barelin emphasizes that listening to communities facing the digital divide is essential to helping them cross it. "Make sure that the people closest to the problem are closest to the solution," she summarizes.
A hyperlocal approach is essential for ensuring a program's success. The problems that a community in San Francisco faces may be entirely different than the neighborhood near Twitter's office in Dublin. Rather than replicate the Twitter Nest there, the business would need to get on the ground first and see what the locals need.
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