The US continues to face a huge technology gap that disproportionately affects entrepreneurs of color.
This ultimately holds back growth of the economy, especially in a volatile labor market. Digital Equity calls for addressing the gap to foster BIPOC business growth while creating a more diverse marketplace. According to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Digital Equity means that all individuals across various communities have equal access to the tools, information, and technology needed for full participation in today’s economy. In March 2021, Congress passed the Digital Equity Act of 2021. This bill is meant to establish grant programs that promote digital equity and inclusion, focusing primarily on state-led efforts around broadband access within marginalized communities.
But having broadband access is only part of the issue. It goes without saying that internet access is a requisite in today’s economy. This is certainly true as more people continue working from home during the pandemic. For startups, having internet access at home allows for connecting with customers in other cities or even across the world. This access means the difference between success and failure in the marketplace. In addition, a business with an online presence offers fewer initial barriers to entry since the costs are far lower than opening a traditional brick and mortar establishment. However, this infers that having a website is the same thing as having a robust digital presence, which is—of course—not the case.
For one thing, the way we use the internet to search for things has changed dramatically over the last several decades. In the early days, there also weren’t nearly as many websites as there are now. For example, a rudimentary search for something like “carpet cleaner” in Google will return millions of results, leaving the searcher to sift through to find the most relevant information. Of course, Google changed the very nature of a search engine itself. Nowadays, there is greater complexity to both the search process and the subsequent process of deciphering the relevancy of the resulting content. In other words, simply having a website offers little to no guarantee of a business generating revenue. Consumers are more scrutinizing, more savvy, and more impatient thanks to the modern internet. It’s a continuing challenge for businesses of all shapes and sizes—even more so for entrepreneurs trending behind in digital fluency. There are many reasons why BIPOC entrepreneurs may be lagging in this area. Discrepancies in the educational system carrying over for decades is one issue. Disparities in both technology access and home internet connections being others. Broadband versus dial-up imposes a literal bottleneck in transmitting and receiving information. The list goes on.
Digital equity must account for this kind of nuance and complexity. Black and brown businesses can’t hope to compete without increasing their digital fluency. The internet abounds with knowledge and tools ready for deployment, but those tools are irrelevant apart from the skills to properly apply them. Education combined with community support and guidance is the key.