Leadership

Apple, Thurgood Marshall College Fund Partner to Increase Diversity In Tech

By / Mar 13, 2015 A bust of former Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall. (USCapitol/Flickr)

The newly announced partnership will help increase the exposure of students at historically black colleges and universities to the tech industry as well as help develop more pathways for these students to start careers in the industry.

On the heels of its much-talked about smart watch announcement earlier this week, Apple also made some news about several new multimillion-dollar initiatives it hopes will help expand diversity in the tech industry.

“Working with the most innovative company on the planet, we’re going to expose more African American students to the possibilities of a career in technology.

One of the new efforts is a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents and supports students attending historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), medical schools, and law schools. As part of the collaboration, Apple is giving TMCF more than $40 million to help develop talent pipelines into the tech industry, including Apple.

“We wanted to create opportunities for minority candidates to get their first job at Apple,” Denise Young Smith, Apple’s vice president of worldwide human resources, told Fortune in an exclusive interview. “There is tremendous upside to that, and we are dogged about the fact that we can’t innovate without being diverse and inclusive.”

It was actually TMCF that approached Apple about the partnership last year. Painfully aware of the lack of diversity in the tech industry having previously headed up HR for a publicly traded tech company, TMCF President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr., wanted to approach the tech giant to see if it would be receptive to a talent-development capability TMCF had spent the last several years creating.

Apple was open to the idea, especially because TMCF was not coming to them simply asking for money—the nonprofit was trying to help solve a pervasive problem that Apple and other tech companies are facing. “It was more out of a business proposition to them to help them solve a challenge that I was acutely aware,” Taylor said.

The multiyear partnership includes both student- and faculty-focused components. For students, there will be opportunities for internships, scholarships, and full-time positions. “We’re looking for the best of the best though,” Taylor said. “The students have to have a minimum 3.5 GPA and be in a tech-related major. It’s not going to be open to just anyone. They’re really going to have to be making the case and showing that they’re serious about this.”

For faculty, there will be a competition beginning this spring in which faculty members at HBCUs can compete for grant money to study how to best prepare students to succeed in the highly competitive tech industry, especially students from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities, Taylor said. “It’s not enough to focus just on students. You have to focus on faculty as well because they are a critical link in that pipelining exercise.”

The partnership promises to be a game changer for HBCU students and faculty, Taylor said. “Working with the most innovative company on the planet, we’re going to expose more African American students to the possibilities of a career in technology and inspire them to become future tech innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders.”

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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