SAN JOSE, Calif. - Alex Ontiveros, founder and CEO of Silicon Valley Latino, sits in a ground-floor office, using mouse clicks and videos to combat a decades-old South Bay problem: It’s the nagging, inaccurate, perception Silicon Valley high tech isn’t fertile territory for the Latin(o/X) community.
"I think there’s always been a frustration in our community, the Latino community, around the negative depiction of us," said Ontiveros.
Hundreds of years before the advent of the silicon chip, this valley’s calling card was agriculture. Farm fields stretched from Gilroy in the south, up north to land now occupied by tech giants.
"The population has always been a big part of this region," said Dr. Roberto Gonzalez, chairman of the San Jose State University Dept. of Anthropology. And even today, the Latino population is close to 40% of this region."
Despite that large demographic footprint, Latin(o/X) inclusion in the high tech industry is paltry. Estimates range from a low of 3%, to a high of perhaps 7% of the workforce.
"That’s a catastrophe. As someone who worked in the industry myself, several years ago, I find it appalling this number is this low," said Ron Gonzales, president and CEO of the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley.
The reasons for the lack of diversity in high tech vary. But one of the common themes running through most minority communities, including the Latin(o/X) community, is that it’s hard to get hired if you don’t see it as a career path. And it’s even harder if the people doing the hiring don’t see you in that roll.
Gonzales, a former mayor of San Jose, has his roots in high tech. He believes the key to increasing the number of Hispanics working in high tech is increasing academic successes in the Hispanic community.
Some higher education centers are doing outreach, and there’s an emergence of professional support groups targeting students and potential new workers.
"So that they have they have the professional networks they need to succeed," said Gonzales.
He said all of this translates into a deeper labor pool.
"They may not necessarily graduate as computer scientists or electrical engineers, but they’re graduating with finance degrees. They’re graduating with marketing degrees. And high tech – and I know high tech – hires more than just engineers," said Gonzales.
Alex Ontiveros uses his "Silicon Valley Latino," publication and podcast to profile Hispanic success stories in a wide-range of white-collar fields, including tech. It’s positive reinforcement, designed to spark interest in the minds of the next crop of workers. And, to counter misconceptions in the minds of current hiring executives.
"If they saw these folks achieving success in the tech space, or any space, that then they would be able to see themselves in those rolls as well," said Ontiveros.
The end goal is similar to his finished product: It looks good, but he said there’s always more to be done, to make it even better.