In the capstone event for the Fair Tech Forum Day Five and on the eve of Juneteenth, Access Partnership’s Senior Advisor Gideon Lett sat down with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY-09), Dr. Nicol Turner Lee (Director of the Center for Technology Innovation, Brookings Institution), and Fred Humphries (Corporate Vice President of US Government Affairs, Microsoft) to discuss the evolving role of business, government, and other stakeholders in advancing technology for social good. Considering the disparities that were laid bare during the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing conversations about systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd, the panel discussed how technology can drive positive social change while doing no harm in the process. The panel emphasized the growing importance of business and government working together by:
- Ensuring equal access to technology to support equal advancement during the COVID-19-spurred digital acceleration.
- Closing gaps and inequities such as unequal access to healthcare and the digital divide for marginalized communities that have been underserved and disparaged.
- Supporting and promoting a functioning and health democracy.
The panel also addressed how companies can uphold the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) commitments they have made in these issue areas over the last year. They provided insights on how companies can drive tangible sustainable change with recommended actions such as:
- Activating DEI and ESG commitments now (i.e., tapping into historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)’s existing diverse talent pools) and continuing to promote activism both in the streets and in the boardroom.
- Embracing initiatives at the leadership level and effecting change from the top down to be vigilant, create buy-in, and continue to grow DEI and ESG priorities.
- Engaging with partners on DEI and ESG issues, as well as structuring business practices in a way that spurs change (i.e., evaluating vendors based on the diversity of their workforce).
- Developing action plans with observable goals, metrics, and strategies to achieve DEI and ESG priorities and utilizing transparent practices such as annual impact reports for public accountability.
- Incorporating responsible product development processes, such as instilling ideals of anti-bias and fairness into the design and development stages.
Finally, the panel discussed the evolving relationship between the technology industry and policymakers and how their relationship is entering a new phase. They addressed key trends such as:
- The continuously revolving nature of Congress’ priorities and personalities with each new session; the current 117th Congress’ engagement with the tech industry is going to look very different than the prior one’s. Particularly, there are now bi-partisan questions about “gate keepers” and interests to regulate the whole technology industry.
- The COVID-19 virtual transition has inspired an age of enlightenment regarding how digital tools and technologies will unlock the US’ ultimate potential as a nation. This transition has inspired legislative and funding priorities to support democratized and equal technology access.
- The need for public-private collaboration on critical technology issues such as developing a diverse cyber workforce. Public-private collaboration will also help technology companies become more mature and responsible in their control, use, and protection of data.
- The ability of entities such as the Congressional Black Caucus to hold technology companies accountable to their public DEI and ESG commitments, as well as the growing disruptive influence of younger, more tech savvy, and more politically active individuals such as Generation Z.