Note from Jack: I have been hearing much flak from Friends who think there is nothing good about multinational corporations. This has hurt, because my son and his wife both worked for Microsoft, and they are not evil. So when my daughter-in-law, now publisher of the South Seattle Star, a community-minded journal, came up with the following article, I asked her permission to publish it in TQE. This Letter is written by Wallis Bolz, who is married to our son Larry Powelson. They have brought us two grandchildren.
Getting Off the Garbage Truck
Making the Case for the Technology Access Foundation
by Wallis Bolz
Because we are a new business in southeast Seattle, the South Seattle Star was invited to the Safeco holiday party. The guests included a number of Safeco employees, a handful of independent insurance agents, and a fair number of Rabanco employees who happened to be black. If you don't know who Rabanco is, you're not around the house on garbage day. Rabanco is the garbage man. They haul away your garbage, your cans, your bottles, your paper and your plastic.
And if you are around the house on garbage day, you have probably noticed that the man emptying your can into the truck is a person of color. And so it appears, in Seattle, that Rabanco is one of the entry points into the workforce for a person of color. You have to start your working life somewhere, and the back of a garbage truck isn't a bad place.
But what if the back of a garbage truck is your only opportunity? Put another way, why do many black men start their working lives at Rabanco? Because at Rabanco it appears there is a tribe of black men who are in positions to hire other black men. And they do.
So what was my own entry point into the workforce? A small and growing company called Microsoft. Why? Because at Microsoft there was a tribe of white women poised to hire, and a friend of mine joined the tribe, and she hired me. At Microsoft, I met a lot of people. One of them was my husband, Larry Powelson. Another was Trish Millines Dziko.
Dziko left Microsoft and, in 1996, founded the Technology Access Foundation (TAF). My husband now works for Dziko as an instructor and curriculum developer.
My husband, Dziko and I are beneficiaries of what Dziko calls critical mass; Larry is a Harvard graduate, and at Microsoft there are a lot of Harvard graduates. They like to work with one another, and so each year Microsoft sends recruiters to Harvard to hire more graduates. Dziko and I are women, and in America, in the '90s, women achieved critical mass in the workforce because they had moved into management positions where they could hire one another.
People of color have not achieved this critical mass in the white collar workforce. Because of this, they are not able to hire one another into the rank and file of well-paid, corporate America. African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans represent 25 percent of the United States workforce, but less than seven percent of the information technology, computer science and engineering workforce.
So how do people of color build critical mass in corporate America? It starts with education. It means finishing high school, attending college, earning a four-year degree. It means effective networking: getting yourself into the workforce and hiring more people like you. And this is the work of TAF.
TAF is a non-profit foundation that provides free technical and workforce training to children of color. Most of TAF's student population comes from central and south Seattle. In addition to its headquarters in Columbia City, TAF supports a classroom facility. It offers three programs to kids of color:
TAF maintains links with major employers in the Puget Sound region, including Microsoft, the City of Seattle, RealNetworks, The Seattle Times, United Parcel Service and Alaska Airlines. TAF kids find paid summer employment at these companies, the first step in developing the necessary professional relationships that get you a job, a good job.
Despite its success, TAF has not become a household word. It should. It is on the verge of something big. "We can," states Dziko, "affect every child of color in this community."
Of TAF's first class of 32, seven will graduate from college with four-year degrees that's 22% of its first batch of kids. Compare that to the national average, where six percent of kids of color who attend four-year colleges graduate, and you begin to grasp the effect TAF can have in a city like Seattle.
"This community," says Dziko, "cannot afford to be without TAF at this point." And despite its success, present hard times have hit TAF as hard as every other non-profit in this city. According to Dziko: "We were used to having dollars come in regularly, and then the economy smacked us like everybody else." The easy corporate philanthropy of the 1990s is history. TAF needs your help. It needs your support to avert its current cash flow crisis; it needs your support to meet its long term goal of serving more kids of creating a better future for every child of color in this community. Can you afford not to support TAF?
Sincerely your friend,
PS from Jack: To find out more about TAF and how to help it, consult the TAF web site or send a contribution to the Technology Access Foundation, at 3803 S. Edmunds Street, Suite A, Seattle WA 98118.
What else can you do? Sit around griping about multinational corporations, or start another TAF in your area?
I enjoyed reading Wallis's article very much (great non-profit too). I'm not sure it rectifies the "nothing good about multinational corporations" opinion that distresses you. It shows that in some respects, corporations are self-perpetuating. If anything, it reinforces the a-morality of corporations themselves and the ways that individuals can make a difference.
Ann Dixon, Boulder (CO) Friends Meeting.
I have read the article by Wallis Bolz, and been to the TAF web-site. I find that you are committed to not letting technology become a divide between the haves and have-nots, but your services are to people of color. What about the have-not colorless? Where are Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Asians? Casual observation suggests that Asians are "people of color" who are doing pretty well in the technology sector, and indeed at Harvard.
It sounds like a great program, but why not target the poor, rather than "people of color"?
Will Candler, Annapolis (MD) Friends Meeting.
Reply by the Executive Director of TAF: I'm not sure where you got the impression that people of color does not include Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Asians or that TAF does not include those groups. If you look at our picture banner on our website and some of the pictures throughout our website, you'll see each of those groups represented. None of our literature says that we're exclusively for African Americans.
In terms of Asians, you are right, that group of "people of color" is doing quite well in a lot of sectors. However, if you look in the technology sector (which is the focus of TAF) you will notice that Asian women in particular are absent, and the higher up you go in an organization, Asian people tend to be absent. I had spent 17 years in the technology industry before starting TAF, so I have a pretty good feel for what is going on in that industry in terms of people of color. TAF was started to increase the representation of people of color in corporate America--technology in particular.
Trish Dziko, Seattle (WA).
I appreciated Wallis's article. Please don't count me among the MNC bashers. Yes, some have been irresponsible. I boycotted Nestle because of its practices in developing countries, and I make no excuses for Enron. But I also worked for a telecommunications manufacturer and found it interesting, challenging and rewarding. I also watched the corporate culture change during the 90s and believe Bob Reich has a very good take on the causes of some of that change. (I think it is in The Way We Work.)
Vici Oshiro, Minneapolis (MN) Friends Meeting.
Oh Please! Ms. Bolz's belief that African-American's have not reached critical mass is wrong. Check your stats, you'll find Blacks have graduated from Harvard, so why weren't they hired at Microsoft? Ms. Bolz related that she got in because she had a friend, not that it was her skills that landed her the job. She demonstrates with that statement that the 'good ole white girl network' is still working. Let me share a statement my Black parents shared with me: "you will have to be twice as good to be given half the chance." The Microsoft HR department is no better than any other corporate company in America with its hiring practices of "it's not what you know, but who you know."
The attempt of TAF to level the playing field is still applauded, but please don't be so naive to think that is the only issue. I would further challenge TAF on it's policy of only helping people of color? Poor is poor, to discriminate against a white child is just as wrong, and causes college admission law suits later in life.
Phyllis Caves Rawley, Executive Director, El Paso Empowerment Zone Corporation,
I appreciate the author's frankness about how people tend to hire people like themselves. To put it another way, headhunters look where they can expect to find people they will be comfortable with. While I don't favor the sort of Affirmative Action programs that are really disguised quotas, and while I agree with the value of white-collar education as a way to get a white collar job, I wonder if Microsoft and the other companies she mentions are bothering to actively seek out those black folks who are already qualified for jobs with them.
Given the shake-ups in the middle class economy recently, I wonder if the back of a garbage truck might offer security not to be found in a white collar job.
Allen Treadway. Decatur (IL) Meeting
The mission of TAF is wonderful. We should be thankful for the social entrepreneurs who create new opportunities where there were few before. However, I ponder the strength of the basic assumption that little or no upward mobility occurs in the labor market until a conspiracy occurs: people with certain characteristics hire others with the same or similar characteristics. At worst the characteristics may have little to do with performance (e.g., skin color, gender), or at best are based on proxies for performance (e.g., Harvard degree).
J.D. von Pischke, a Friend from Reston, VA.
Thanks for your letter about the Technology Access Fund. I'm involved with the Village Charter School in Trenton, NJ, initiated by Mercer Street Friends Center board members. Our kids at VCS are 99% minority, 85% single parents, 79% poverty, and among the most underprivileged in the country. We've launched quite a few innovative efforts, but I may get in touch with your TAF folks if you don't mind.
Norval Reece, Newtown (PA) Friends Meeting.
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