Friday Forum Recap: New Faces in Oregon Tech

Only about one-third of the employees at many large companies—including Facebook, Apple, and Google are women. Many tech companies are also only 4-5 percent Latino and 3-4 percent black.

Oregon is only slightly better when it comes to diversity. According to DHM study data posted at the TechTown PDX website there are more women in tech here, but representation of people of color continues to lag.

Last week, City Club of Portland met at the Sentinel Hotel to welcome a few rising tech entrepreneurs in Portland and to hear their thoughts on strengthening and diversifying the tech community here.

Katherine Krajnak from Propser Portland led the discussion, with Tyrone Poole from OneAppOregon, Astrid Scholz from Sphaera, and Marcelino J. Alvarez from Uncorked Studios.

Each of the panelists related an interesting story about how they got into tech. Tyrone Poole’s story of working his way of out a homeless shelter and into building a tech company was incredible. Check out this Oregonian feature story from last year for more details.

Yet, even with all of his hard work and innovation in developing his idea and pitching it across the country, investors kept turning him down. “Access to capital for an African American male in Portland is smaller than a needle in a haystack.”

Poole was able to piece together 38 initial investors, meeting with each of them over dinner, to fund his idea.

Diversity Requires Transparency

Marcelino Alvarez believes that no matter who you are, you have to try to see through your biases when hiring. “Don’t look for yourself at the other side of the table,” he said.

Alvarez reminds leaders that committing to diversity means signing on for a certain amount of transparency. You will be critiqued and, regardless of how you feel about your progress, you have to be willing to listen.

Alvarez encourages company leaders to hire slow and be very deliberate about who they bring into the company. When it’s not working out, be willing to let go and move on.

Celebrating Opportunities

Scholz reminded everyone that even though there are clear examples of racism and other forms of bias in tech, there are solutions, and Oregon is a leader in advocating for those solutions.

“People are so focused on the problem—what tends to get overlooked are all the great things those underestimated people are doing to remedy the situation on a daily basis.”

Scholz points to XXcelerate FundBlack & Brown Founders, and the Zebra Movement as organizations that are making tangible progress toward a more equitable industry.

Want to catch the full discussion at last week’s Friday Forum? Listen here now.