Can Blockchain Improve Tech’s Workplace Diversity?

Blockchain is expected to add over $3.1 billion in business value, according to research firm Gartner. But the value proposition could involve more than money: blockchain might lead to a more diverse pipeline of qualified employees.

That’s the mission of STEAMRole, which uses blockchain and its own cryptocurrency (called RoleCoin) for two purposes: providing STEAM-expert role models and a Diverse Talent Pipeline Platform (DTPP) for companies to use in tracking and hiring diverse talent.

Based in Palo Alto, California, STEAMRole connects role models with aspirants (called Steamers) particularly from groups that are underrepresented in STEM and the Arts (the “A” in the acronym). Both Steamers and role models are awarded RoleCoins for their activities, which not only incentivizes participation and achievement, but also records it on the system’s blockchain, a feature that could be applied to tracking the effectiveness of STEAM program funding.

Blockchain was synonymous with Bitcoin back in 2009, but that’s no longer the case. The Wall Street Journal’sWhy Blockchain Will Survive, Even If Bitcoin Doesn’t” defines blockchain as “essentially a secure database, or ledger, spread across multiple computers.” The advantage that offers is that “everybody has the same record of all transactions,” which diminishes the opportunity for unauthorized revisions or additions.

RoleCoins are awarded to Steamers for signing onto a STEAMRole, beginning their own blockchain record. The next step is to offer them role models to choose from; the mobile app algorithmically matches them up, much like Tinder. It takes “gender, ethnicity and interests” into account, pointed out STEAMRole founder and CEO Clarence Wooten: “We cannot be what we cannot see.”

“Finding role models and mentors is generally a challenging process and exponentially harder when there’s few people in your field that have similar backgrounds and experiences,” observed Dhruv Maheshwari, one of the co-creators of Dear Tech People, which has highlighted the lack of diversity that persists in the tech industry.

The role models not only provide inspiration but also direction, telling Steamers exactly what skills they need to qualify for a career, and showing them how to access the required training. According to Wooten, that is central to “bridging the gap between education and training.” The participants’ transactions automatically update the blockchain, creating a record of their progress.

Wooten envisions an even greater value for the ledger if RoleCoin is used for funding training programs, and accepted as payment for online courses such as Udacity. For the sake of illustration, imagine a hypothetical organization called TEST (Teens Explore Science and Technology), funded by some tech billionaires organized into a foundation called Give Back.

Currently, if Give Back donates a million dollars to TEST and wants a report on the impact of the money spent, it would have to rely on TEST’s self-reporting. However, if it transfers the funds into RoleCoins that TEST uses as part of STEAMRole transactions, the money trail is automatically built on the blockchain.

The STEAMRole blockchain would show what the teens are doing on the platform to prepare themselves for their chosen careers: how many role models they are following, what skills they are working on acquiring, and so on. That data could track directly to a proof of progress dashboard that TEST could access and then copy over in its report to Give Back. The same tracking also would bring to light which Steamers would be a good fit for particular jobs at companies that partner with STEAMRole.

Other organizations recognize the potential benefits of using blockchain to track progress in building a diverse pipeline. Though its public launch is set for April, STEAMRole has already established partnerships with nonprofit organizations such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and corporations such as Hewlett-Packard.

Lesley Slaton Brown, Chief Diversity Officer of Hewlett-Packard, said the company was very excited about getting involved in “empowering creators, designers, innovators, engineers and technologists.” The way the role models communicate with Steamers goes beyond general motivation, she added: “They get a sense of what to do, what day-to-day tasks entail—everything from compensation and mentorship, to what to expect on the job.”

Corporations that participate also gain the benefit of access to a “steady pipeline of diverse talent that have proven that they are self-motivated in following role models and learning the particular skills they need to do a particular job,” Wooten said.

STEAMRole’s DTPP enables company recruiters to build a robust pipeline of qualified candidates by tracking their progress as they acquire the skills they will need for jobs. Wooten compared it to the blockchain equivalent of the farm system for major league baseball teams, in which promising minor leaguers are monitored and promoted on a regular basis.

Of course, STEAMRole does stand to profit from minting RoleCoins, which, like other crypto-currencies, are subject to risk and may be considered securities under SEC guidelines. But blockchain, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “has the potential to be a fundamental enabling technology,” which may be harnessed for any number of goals. Those can certainly include measuring the impact of training and diversity initiatives.