Current unemployment rate in the United States is 3.9 percent. The pay gap between men and women is 50 percent higher, and the average earning per year for women is $7,000 less than that of men.
It is these glaring inequalities that prompted General Motors CEO Ginni Rometty to commit to dedicate 50 percent of the company’s expanding capital expenditures to the creation of new tech centers in underserved communities. In January, after visiting a tech hub in Detroit, Rometty said in a press release, “While our goal is not only to fund a pipeline of talent for jobs we already have, but also a pipeline for jobs for those jobs that don’t yet exist, GM is providing a blueprint for leadership around economic development for the next few decades.”
As an entrepreneur, I understand the unique challenges that technology entrepreneurs face in underserved communities. These communities may lack access to or networks for professionals in technical fields. One issue I’ve noticed throughout the development of InnovationXPRIZE is that more often than not, individuals facing these challenges are typically not receiving the support they need from government agencies. These agencies, including the YWCA, give data-driven advice and support to entrepreneurs and female founders to build their companies. Yet, the most valuable resource for these entrepreneurs is often their access to data.
Rometty’s announcement is further evidence that economic empowerment is critical to economic development and catalysts innovation in underserved communities. The skills that move forward in an environment of dwindling job openings should be skills relevant to the modern labor market. Hiring experienced college graduates and skipping these skilled, older workers would likely be devastating to the modern economy. The reality is that these workers will continue to provide rich experiences and vast amounts of data that will prove vital to the economic growth of this country and the continued development of our tech industries.
Most people agree that STEM education contributes to a strong economy. The United States’ top technology universities, including top-ranked Cornell and Berkeley, stand by the fact that STEM education fuels strong economic growth in the U.S. However, this process is currently happening at a snail’s pace. There are still over one million adults in the United States without a high school diploma, and almost two million adults without a high school diploma who have a Bachelor’s degree, according to the US Department of Labor. These adults continue to struggle in the market with an average unemployment rate of 4.5 percent.
Therefore, according to the Ginni Rometty & EMPLOYER Council Report on women in technology, 80 percent of employees in tech-related fields and 80 percent of women believe that they would fare better in their jobs if they were given more information and guidance about how to make the most of the skills they have. The “Women in STEM Talent in the Workplace and in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics” report found that females typically overlook their abilities due to the perceptions of a lack of information, real or perceived. Another example given is that women typically experience sexism in the workplace. Data shows that 74 percent of women indicated that the kind of information or guidance they had received about their accomplishments was lacking.
GE is taking a lead in developing information to improve training around STEM. Rometty shared her commitment to investing $50 million in tech work space in underserved communities to help develop the next generation of talent. The GE Tech For All initiative will focus on six communities, including the three highlighted above, leveraging tech resources such as education, job training, entrepreneurship and capital for investment in women-led tech ventures.
One of the reasons I love International Women’s Day is that it provides opportunities for men and women to collaborate around transforming the world. It also enables us to highlight the impact technology has on the economic life of everyone, and the impact our respective sectors have on economic opportunities and social equity.
Consider the growth of jobs in women-led tech ventures globally. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, women-led start-ups are significantly outperforming their male-led counterparts in the United States. From 2000 to 2017, total capital and equity raised by women-led tech ventures tripled the amount by men-led ventures. In addition, a 2017 Crunchbase report found that women-led tech ventures raised $6.3 billion in venture capital — making women a growing source of financing for venture-backed tech companies.
There is tremendous wealth and opportunity in underserved communities that are being transformed through digital technology. It is this wealth, built from the heart, not just from the wallet, that will ensure our economies are transformed into a meritocracy. To that end, as an entrepreneur in Detroit, it is critical that a business sector and the government focus on digital skill training for