How Nashville can become tech’s diversity and inclusion hub: An educator’s view | Opinion

This piece was published in The Tennessean in March 2021

When most of the world thinks of Nashville, they automatically think about country music.

While country music is certainly a part of Nashville’s identity, there’s so much more to Music City. With more companies moving their headquarters to Nashville, including tech giants like Amazon, we could easily become a national hub for producing diverse talent in the technology industry.

Currently, the tech industry is overwhelmingly white. Seven in 10 tech industry professionals identify as white while fewer than one in 10 are Black or Latinx. Tech companies have launched all sorts of diversity initiatives in recent years, but they have a long way to go before their workforces mirror the population of the country.

After all, just 2.4% of Google’s technical employees and 1.4% of Facebook’s are Black. Unless we solve “the pipeline problem”, companies will struggle to identify a diverse pool of candidates for tech positions.

At this point, you might be asking yourself: what does this have to do with Nashville? Last week, the Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education voted to renew the charter of RePublic High School for the next ten years.

In most schools, computer science education is an elective or only offered for a select number of students. At RePublic High School, where 90% of the student body identify as students of color and 70% come from low-income backgrounds, computer science is a required course where all students have the opportunity to learn a variety of programming languages and industry-ready skills. Our CS classrooms are as diverse as the future we envision for the tech workforce.

Oftentimes, you will hear tech companies use the excuse that the diverse talent is not out there, but this is simply not true.

Not only did 70% of RePublic’s AP CSP test-takers pass the 2020 exam, exceeding global and national averages, but RePublic shattered regional demographic pass rates with more than two thirds students of color passing the exam.

Additionally, we have students like Liliana and Khamiyah, both of whom participated in bioinformatics research through Vanderbilt University, go on to pursue computer science at the collegiate level.

This means our students are meeting and exceeding a national bar of excellence, proving that there is in fact diverse talent.

  • Cultivating a deep bench of diverse technology talent requires locked-arm partnership with our community. That’s why we’re launching a new, industry-readiness curriculum with Pivot Technology School.

Pivot, a Black-owned bootcamp, is teaching high-demand skills like full-stack web development, data science, cybersecurity, and digital marketing.

Pivot, just like RePublic believes the tech industry is in desperate need of diverse talent. Pivot aims to specifically increase enrollment of BIPOC individuals, and we have committed to answering the call.

With the right investment of funding and time, this is what we can build—programs that prepare diverse students for high-paying tech jobs. In doing so, Nashville can set the standard for what an inclusive tech space should be for other tech-heavy cities across the country.

Mehreen Butt is the dean of science and computer science at RePublic High School in Nashville.