Silicon Valley has long talked the talk when it comes to diversity, but now an organization is determined to make sure it walks the walk as well.
An FKD Feature exclusive

GenFKD caught up with Karla Monterroso, Vice President of Programs at CODE2040, before she spoke at MCON 2016, a gathering of some of the sharpest and most innovative minds in social entrepreneurship.

As a leader of a nonprofit organization increasing the representation of Black and Latinx people in the innovation economy, Monterroso is uniquely positioned to outline how we can make a brighter, more equitable future by correcting the systemic failure of American business, particularly the tech sector, to create organizations and cultures centered upon diversity and inclusion.

Tell us a little bit about CODE2040’s mission and your core programs.

Code2040 works to connect Black and Latinx people to the innovation economy through four different programs: our Fellows program, which focuses on internship placement at tech companies, our Technical Applicant Prep (TAP) program which tackles the skills to get the job as opposed to do the job, and our Entrepreneurship program where we fund, effectively, the “friends and family” round for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs and support their ability to meet a diversity goal in a regional tech hub.

Then there’s our company program where we take everything we learned and apply them to behavioral and systems training at the company.

Can you explain the behavioral and systems training component?

In the current models for diversity, we’ve seen that unconscious bias is not nearly enough and [businesses] don’t go far enough in behavioral education training. There’s currently a real competency gap.

"This is really the first time America has had to deal with diversity in the workforce and you deal with power differently than in the past."

This is really the first time America has had to deal with diversity in the workforce and you deal with power differently than in the past. It is really vitally important that people understand how this impacts business outcomes. That includes things like blind spots in listening and how to have tough conversations around race – a true inclusive environment raises the talent level.

It seems like you guys have had a busy year expanding the different kinds of programs on offer.

Last year saw a lot of codification of stuff we were doing. When we were doing just the Fellows program, we got to the point where we needed to expand and tackle the systems issues we were facing. Even the Fellows program is working on the company side on how to recruit, engage and retain persons of color.

So we work with them on job listings or how to manage the 2040 fellows. [The companies] go through management training and we triangulate services so we are providing services for both the student and everyone else.

Right, there’s the multiple stakeholders in the system, so what’s the core systemic challenge that CODE2040 faces?

Access is the primary systemic challenge. The Department of Labor says 88% of job opportunities come through friends and family and this presents problems for obvious reasons.

Look at median wealth across races and even if I am high income, high-middle income Black/Latinx, the jobs that my family and friends have access to is very different.

We’re trying to create an ecosystem that brings people into a diverse environment that connects them to each other, feeds off each other and itself. That’s a big part of our programming. That’s why we get our fellows in front of industry professionals and we bring in our entrepreneurs, so that they’re able to meet people who will talk to them about the way people are looking at the creation of original traction in business.

TAP is the program that hits the most people on this end. This year we’ll see a thousand students go through the program and it is all workshops, webinars, retreats that provide frameworks for students to understand what people look for in interviews and hiring.

If TAP is focused on initial placement and access, the Entrepreneur In Residency program seems focused more on the end of the pipeline where we’re looking at ownership and leadership at the foundation.

We’ve got seven entrepreneurs in seven cities that we fund and they’re moving a diversity goal in the tech hub in their city. So we’re bringing Black/Latinx people into those centers and networks.

It’s the difference between diversity as vertical versus horizontal in a company and its approach to inclusion. So, we how do we help show [these entrepreneurs] how to do that? And then, how do we give those skills to our students so that when they go to companies they think in robust ways about it?

We recently got nine companies to tackle the systemic issues of technical interviews and it’s clear that there is no process or content agreement about what competencies people should be coming in with for these jobs.

For a really long time, companies thought it was enough to hire ‘top-tier talent’ from selective schools, but what are the actual competencies and skills you’re looking for? It makes a huge difference to creating access.

To that end, I went to San Fran last year and, my expectation of some kind of hippie haven felt so far off-based. At least in the tech space, it seemed to me like a bunch of white dudes with generalized, not particularly technical, educations from elite schools. How do you combat things like “pedigree” or are we really talking about larger socio-economic issues between K-12 inequalities, higher ed access and work?

*Laughs* Well, we represent students coming from everywhere. The first thing we had to do was show people that the talent is really good and coming from everywhere. We’ve been benefitting from the fact that 90 percent of our students have received offers to return to the company they were placed in, so there’s some proof there.

I often get messages from CTO’s and the like after they have interaction with our students and they say, “We have IQ and EQ in the same person!” and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s what happens when you diversify.”

That’s helped us create a brand around excellence from what [our students] bring to table and that then gives access to whole other sets of communities.

And it’s also being honest right? Often the non-profit mechanism is that we are really dependent on other people’s money, so we’ve been afraid to be as honest as possible about the structures and institutions that are financially supporting us. So we’ve been really conscientious about partnering and making it clear they are purchasing a service or good from us and we are giving back along those same lines.

In terms of being honest with people though, how many people genuinely think they’re part of the problem? I would guess that if someone’s involved in the program they would assume they’re already part of the solution.

Everyone likes to believe they have a good relationship with inclusion. So we took feedback from students about the companies they interact with and I can go back to companies with it and compare it the best and worst from other companies so they can understand their comparative status.

“Here’s what [the student] knew coming in about your brand and here what they know coming out of it.”

Our ability to be transparent with folks while we’re implementing is pivotal to changing relationships and practices. It’s important to realize that this is an operations analysis, management and behavior problem – not a feeling problem.

We are quickly approaching a point – and this is being reflected in our political and economic systems – that the demographic shift is the new reality. Inclusion is important to the growth and survival of the country.


For more on Monterroso and CODE2040, check out their latest programs and see how they’re changing the tech economy as we know it.

*This interview was lightly edited for clarity and formatting purposes.


Posted 07.18.2016 - 02:35 pm EDT