In today’s Diversity & Inclusion Leader Spotlight, we hear from Kevin L. Nichols, Founder, President & CEO of The Social Engineering Project. TSEP addresses four key areas to make the tech industry more diverse and inclusive: develop pipelines for young people from diverse backgrounds, connect tech companies with diverse colleges and universities, change the culture of tech companies as it pertains to people over 30 years of age, and teach people the power of networking. Kevin is also the Founder of KLN Consulting Group, helping the legal industry with diversity, business development, and social media consulting.
Change Catalyst: What are you currently working on to improve diversity and inclusion in tech?
Kevin: The Social Engineering Project, Inc. is a Google and Microsoft funded social impact venture with Stanford University designed to address the lack of diversity in the tech industry through pipeline programs.
Change Catalyst: What motivates you to work towards an inclusive tech ecosystem?
Kevin: Making the tech industry more inclusive has more benefits than meets the eye. Although the racial and ethnic composition of our country is projected to increase until 2040, the Black population is projected to decrease. Wages grew significantly for middle- and high-wage workers aged 25–64 from 1979–2012 in the Bay Area, but decreased for workers earning lower wages. Lastly, people of color have lower wages and higher unemployment rates. It might be naive, but more inclusivity in the tech industry will allow people of color to earn higher paying jobs, the ability to live in the communities where they work, have their tax paying dollars be applied to the schools that their children will attend, and improve the Bay Area’s overall quality of life.
Change Catalyst: What will be the biggest story around diversity and inclusion in 2017?
Kevin: More customers will understand their collective bargaining tools and begin to require more from the C suite of companies such as Uber and United to be accountable for their actions. I predict that we will see the fall or bankruptcy of a major company this year for egregious behavior.
Change Catalyst: What one key solution would make a huge difference in creating a more inclusive tech ecosystem?
Kevin: Tech now needs its own version of the Rooney Rule, which requires National Football League teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. African Americans in tech make up only 1–3% of the workforce. This is unacceptable, and something drastic needs to be implemented in the absence of Affirmative Action.
Change Catalyst: What is the best example of leadership in inclusion you’ve seen recently?
Kevin: From a data perspective, companies like Apple are better than similarly situated companies. However, I have witnessed firsthand LinkedIn thinking outside of the box to recruit and attract new talent. I still have not seen an example of a public retention policy that is effective because turnover is extremely high.
Change Catalyst: Describe the impact you’re having in your role.
Kevin: Our programs directly impact hundreds of students in the Bay Area by introducing them to the other letters in “STEM” besides the “T”, which is usually associated with coding and software. My co-founder, Bryan Brown, Ph.D., a professor of science education at Stanford University, and I feel that preparing students to excel only in coding sets underrepresented students up to obtain entry level jobs in tech when they finish high school.
Our programs encourage students to go to college and major in STEM related fields to pursue tech careers. If young people do not develop a love for subjects like math, science, chemistry, physics, and engineering at an early age, they will never get past college weeder courses such as Math 1A, Chem 1A, or Physics 1A, and they will be less likely to get a degree in a competitive major or attend a top tiered school. They are also less likely to develop the necessary networks that would enable them to be executives in startups, found their own company, or raise capital to start new ventures. Thus, we are empowering students to take ownership of their careers by setting themselves up to reach for the stars. If they land on the moon and want to do things like coding, it’s their choice, but not their only option.
Change Catalyst: Just for fun, what unique or unusual talent or skill do you have?
Kevin: I am a serial networker. I attend a conference every other week and typically organize events a few times a month. My nicknames are The Social Politician and The Social Engineer. Although I am not a lawyer, one of my favorite quotes and the impetus for much of my work is a quote from Charles Hamilton Houston, a lawyer who laid down the foundation for the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka case: “A lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society.” You do not have to be a lawyer in order to understand the significance of this quote. My networking capabilities have been featured in CNN Money, MarketWatch, the Wall Street Journal, and on LinkedIn.com.