The tech industry’s diversity woes have been thrown in the spotlight time and time again. Now, leaders in Boston’s tech, VC and civic communities are banding together to do something about it.

Hack Diversity is a new program connecting talented STEM students of color with strong companies in Greater Boston. The hope is that through Hack Diversity, barriers between our local innovation economy and the black and Latino communities can be torn down.

Jeff Bussgang, co-founder of Hack Diversity and a general partner at Flybridge Capital partners, said the project has been in development for some time, but the election results accelerated its launch. “Now more than ever, companies want to send a message to their employees emphasizing their values in diversity and inclusion,” he said. “The elections have made them more excited about it.”

Through the new program, engineering and computer science students of color at urban universities can apply for paid internships at prominent companies throughout Greater Boston. In addition to gaining work experience at tech companies, selected candidates will be matched with a personal mentor. The Hack Diversity Mentor Network will consist of mid- and senior-level black and Latino engineers and executives who will coach the students one on one, supporting them and encouraging their professional development.

“In tech, we face two major problems: a talent shortage and an extreme lack of diversity… It stems from a failure of overlapping networks needed to build a pipeline,” Bussgang said. He added that Hack Diversity presents a solution to both of these challenges, bridging the gap and establishing a broader talent pipeline by connecting companies with candidates of color.

Hack Diversity comes from a partnership among local organizations, such as the New England Venture Capital Association, Year Up, the Private Industry Council and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. To start, they’ve teamed up with Bunker Hill Community College and UMass Boston. Students of color from these schools will have opportunities to work with Carbonite, DataXu, HubSpot and Vertex this coming spring.

As part of the program, hiring managers at each company will receive training on how to be better at recruiting, hiring and retaining diverse talent. Hack Diversity will help them introduce inclusion into their hiring policies and create an inviting work environment for diverse job candidates.

“When given the opportunity to increase diversity, employers say, ‘Yes, absolutely,’” Melissa James, co-founder of Hack Diversity and founder/CEO of The Tech Connection, told me. “They’re up for it and want to do it, but creating an action plan has presented a challenge… Hack Diversity provides a tangible solution with training for employers and tangible outcomes, ensuring they hire more diverse talent. We’re presenting them with an action plan.”

Melissa James.

“Tech is very much a white male culture, even if unintentional,” Mike Baker, CEO of DataXu, said. “When we form a group of similar people, it forms a tribal behavior and they can act a certain way that’s perceived by someone else as unwelcome. It’s hard for people not born into that tribe to assimilate… We have some work to do on that.”

Baker added that DataXu has worked to overcome cultural challenges across different groups of employees in offices throughout the world with development training. But it welcomes more opportunity to develop a heterogenous work culture.

For its pilot program, Hack Diversity will recruit and train 20 students, matching them with 20 mentors and having them work with the aforementioned employers. The plan is to expand from there, bringing on more students, mentors and companies as it gains momentum.

In addition to Bussgang and James, local leaders involved in Hack Diversity include:

  • Clea Andreadis, Bunker Hill Community College
  • William Brah, UMass Boston
  • Alessandra Brown, Roxbury Innovation Center and Venture Cafe
  • Jodi Tatiana-Charles, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce
  • David Delmar, Resilient Coders
  • Michael Goldstein and Randi Kinsella, Year Up
  • Donna Levin, MIT and
  • Alysia Ordway, Private Industry Council
  • Jody Rose, New England Venture Capital Association
  • Julisa Salas, Toast