Closing the Digital Equality Divide
It has been suggested that we are living at the convergence of several crises: a global public health crisis, a slowly-unfolding economic crisis, an environmental crisis and, arguably, a humanitarian crisis. The unprecedented circumstances we face today are a stark reminder to us that we are all connected in so many ways.
Concurrently, as we collectively navigate the unique challenges that have been posed by these crises, we are also now gaining a heightened awareness of - and, more importantly, acknowledging - the enduring equality crisis that, for centuries now, has perpetuated the ongoing disenfranchisement of marginalized communities across the country.
Specifically, the reality of racial inequality is a pervasive ill that has compromised the integrity of our nation’s creeds, and hindered our ability to fully function as a fair and balanced society.
This inequity has played out in social, political, and economic spheres, resulting in disparities in health care, education, housing, employment, reliable food sources, and, even in the digital age, a disproportionate lack of access to the technology that underpins all of the aforementioned components of our collective economic stability and individual livelihoods.
Closing this technology gap, colloquially known as the ‘digital divide,’ has been recognized as a critical part of our overall crisis response measures because now, more than ever before, technology is far more than simply a means to sustain social connections—technology is a virtual lifeline for much of the world’s population.
With new social distancing regulations in place, we are now heavily reliant upon the internet as the source of all of our information, as well as the means to continue to work and to learn.
Notably, the education community has had to rapidly adapt and students, from K-12 to post-college learners, are acclimating to a dramatically-altered student life. While physical classrooms remain closed indefinitely, learning institutions have leveraged technology to transform and deliver new educational experiences to their students. However, the success of these virtualized learning experiences is contingent upon the assumption that all students have equal access to the rudiments of connected life.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for large portions of school-aged children around the world. While developing nations are faced with these issues in greater numbers, a striking 20% of students in the United States are part of a ‘disconnected’ populace, and this frequently rings true far more often for Black and Hispanic students.
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, one in five teenagers (17%) in the U.S. reported being unable to complete homework because of unreliable access to a computer or an internet connection. This problem is particularly pronounced in Black and low-income households; 25% of Black teens and 24% of teens in households with an annual income of less than $30K a year identified access to technology as being a barrier to educational engagement.
Black and Hispanic teens also make up disproportionately high percentages of students that either rely on cellphones in order to complete their homework, or public Wi-Fi connections often found in local coffee shops and tech-anchored retail locations which, in the age of COVID, are largely inaccessible.
Taking those numbers into consideration, it’s even more alarming to consider the myriad opportunities that exclude these students because of lack of exposure and access. I think it’s safe to assume that any student that lives in a household that struggles to afford internet access is very likely not going to have the ability to engage in high-quality educational opportunities that fall outside of the realm of what is offered as part of their basic public education curriculum.
I’ll take this opportunity to reemphasize the fact that this is not a new problem; it’s simply the most current form of what has been decades of inequity in educational access which has been exacerbated by the current pandemic, and further exposed by the increased focus on racial inequality and the need for extensive reforms across the board.
To date, our society has not created ideal conditions that would reasonably guarantee equal and equitable opportunities for minority populations to take full advantage of educational resources. This has, subsequently, been a contributing factor to the dearth of minority representation we see today in executive and leadership positions in corporate America and, particularly, in the tech industry.
So what is to be done?
It is my sincere belief that the period we’re living through now will no doubt be marked by sweeping change and, more importantly, elevated social consciousness. If we hope to realize the full potential of all that humanity aspires and proclaims to be, it is critically important that, at this juncture, we wholly embrace our individual and collective responsibility to truly ‘be the change’.
I take great pride in the opportunity to work with companies that recognize the significance of their role as corporate citizens, and prioritize the use of their platforms to contribute to positive social impact. In the words of Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, ‘business is the greatest platform for change.’ Today’s business leaders have the opportunity, and mandate, to accelerate the pace of change by galvanizing their spheres of influence to take action and employ the full scope of their resources - their time, their equity, and their products - to advance noble causes.
At Salesforce, our core values define everything we do—from how we conduct business and make investment decisions, to how we engage our employees and treat one another in our daily work. At Salesforce, Equality is a core value, and we believe that true equality begins with education. It has been exhibited that the absence of educational access vastly limits the economic mobility of a society, but the right education investments equip people with the support, skills, and opportunities they need to create a life that reflects the fulfillment of their full human potential.
To that end, I assert that education is a human right. In fact, the United Nations has identified Quality Education as the fourth of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and has stated that the objective of this goal is to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
Salesforce is committed to advancing the UN SDGs and continues to invest in endeavors that specifically uphold and promote Quality Education as outlined in the SDGs. The dedicated social impact center of Salesforce, Salesforce.org, is a unique business unit dedicated to creating solutions for nonprofit, educational, and philanthropic organizations. This arm of our company is responsible for funding projects that expand quality STEM curriculum and experiences to ensure the next generation of tech-enabled jobs can be accessed by a more diverse and equitable workforce.
To that end, Salesforce will be supporting Ready Rock Institute of Technology with fun and engaging learning courses through Salesforce's Trailhead platform. the purpose of which is to use STEM education as a means to address the equality gap in tech, and create opportunities that will educate, empower, and provide positive exposure for the next generation of learners. In its inaugural year. Not only will this program introduce some Ready Rock's students to STEM as a potential career path, but will enhance the curiosity of others and provide a world-class educational experience to kids that may not have otherwise had exposure to such opportunities.
As a Black professional in my field, I realize the duty incumbent upon me to do more, and prompt others to strongly consider how they might also contribute to progress. As an Equality champion, this has given me the opportunity to lean into what I believe is a shared mission between two companies that are leading the way in diversifying the tech universe. As the uncle of an enthusiastic Trailhead user, the ethos of teaming up with Ready Rock is deeply personal for me, and the knowledge that I’m forging a new path for the future of my family is at once incredibly humbling and energizing. As a Salesforce employee, my heart swells with pride to watch us live out our values. Finally, as a human, this program gives me hope.
Learn more about Salesforce’s Trailhead Learning Academy
Jon R. Moore is currently the Brand Manager for Global Public Sector at Salesforce and Regional Co-Lead for the DC Hub of the Black Organization for Leadership and Development at Salesforce (BOLDforce). Jon holds a BBA in Business Management from Howard University and has over 15 years of B2B, B2C and B2G marketing experience in the digital philanthropy & cloud computing industries. Twitter | LinkedIn