Look Who's Behind the Latest Push for STEM Diversity

We're excited about the new Apple Watch and the updates to the Mac Book Pro, but what really interests us is Apple's announcement about its effort to increase STEM careers among women and ethnic minorities.

Diversity in the tech field, along with the watch, took center stage at Apple's recent annual shareholders meeting in Cupertino, CA. During a Q&A session, one investor urged CEO Tim Cook to publicize its efforts to diversify its board of directors and executive leadership. Cook also allowed the Rev. Jesse Jackson to speak at the meeting, during which Jackson admonished Apple and other technology firms to put more people of color into leadership positions and create companies that "look like America."

Cook noted that Apple has increased its diversity but acknowledged that more needs to be done, including stimulating interest in STEM careers among women and people of color. The world's most popular tech company took a step toward doing that when it announced it was giving $50 million to a group of nonprofit organizations to support efforts to attract more women and minorities into the tech industry, which is largely dominated by white and Asian men.

Apple Vice President for Human Resources Denise Young Smith announced that the company would partner with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) and the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). TMCF supports students in public, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), such as North Carolina A&T, Howard University, Prairie View A&M, Grambling State University, and dozens of others. Young Smith is herself a Grambling graduate. Nearly 20 percent of African-American students who earn college degrees graduate froom HBCUs.

TMCF will receive nearly $40 million over a four-year period from Apple. The fund plans to use the money to create a database of computer science majors at HBCUs, provide training for both students and faculty, and create scholarships. In addition, Apple will create a paid internship program for promising students.

NCWIT will receive $10 million over four years, which the nonprofit's CEO, Lucy Sanders, reported is the largest single donation in its history, according to Fortune magazine. NCWIT plans to double the number of women supported by NCWIT scholarships and internships, as well as provide outreach to middle school girls to boost their interest in technology careers.

Apple has supported NCWIT in the past, and it is not the only big corporate name funding these organizations. NCWIT counts Microsoft, Google, and Symantec among its donors, as well. The Marshall Fund has received grants from Walmart (see our post on Walmart's gift to TMCF) and home improvement retail giant Lowe's. Clearly, the business and tech worlds see that they have a lot of work to do to increase diversity in their ranks. Let's hope that gifts such as that of Apple will lead even more firms to follow suit.

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