If TechAmerica announced it would sell tickets to a banquet for African-American CEOs of public technology companies, the response would be so small the national tech trade body would likely cancel.
RSVPs might come from Xerox's Ursula Burns. Until recently, there would have been Openwave Systems' Ken Denham. Symantec Chairman John W. Thompson might attend, although he's given up the CEO job there to head private Virtual Instrument, a private storage company.
Still more RSVPs might come from CEOs of major technology leaders IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Intel, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Texas Instruments, AMD, and Nvidia that have minority recruitment programs.
Just below the CEO level, there are several prominent African-Americans who may be future CEOs, including Google's David Drummond, EVP and general counsel; IBM's Rod Adkins, Senior VP for Systems and Technology, and General Electric's Lloyd Trotter, president of GE Industrial Systems.
In Washington, the most prominent blacks in technology are Charles Bolden, the former astronaut and electrical engineer who heads NASA, and Lisa Jackson, the chemical engineer who is administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The important thing is not to be the CEO of Xerox, eAccess founder John W. Templeton told IBTimes. The important thing is to be the one who creates the next imaging device.
Templeton, a Silicon Valley veteran and expert on diversity, believes that seeding the black community with young engineers and scientists is the best way to create opportunities. Still, he acknowledged to IBTimes, the community lacks access to venture capital, financing and contracts.
Private African-American businesses, especially in areas with large black populations like the greater Washington, D.C., area and Los Angeles have done well, winning fat federal contracts for critical IT projects.
Management Support Technology Inc. (MSTI), based in Fairfax, Va., has won $4.6 billion in federal contracts, for clients like the Comptroller of the Currency and the Pentagon; Strategic Resources, of McLean, Va., has won $2.7 billion in contracts for services to the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force. Its CEO is Rose McElrath-Slade.
MSTI CEO James George told IBTimes he set up an employee stock option plan (ESOP) that is transferring ownership to his 140 employees. I never considered going public, he added. Annual revenue is only around $17 million.
Still, with 140 employees, mainly minorities, MSTI has set itself up as small federal IT vendor with a book of recurring contracts. George, 75, a retired Army colonel, uses his military connections to make sure they keep coming.
Meanwhile, statistics show the number of African-Americans employed in computing and information technology sectors has fallen relative to the overall population, particularly in Silicon Valley.
A survey by the San Jose Mercury News, for example, determined the number of African-Americans in Silicon Valley jobs in 2008 was only 1.5 percent at the 15 largest companies like Cisco Systems, eBay, Hewlett-Packard and Advanced Micro Devices, a huge decline over 20 years.
Templeton, with long California experience, told IBTimes attributed the decline to fewer well-trained veterans as well as the offshoring of so much tech manufacturing to Latin America and Asia.
The 2010 census reported about 40.3 million African Americans, or about 13 percent of the overall population, but only about 7.1 percent of them were employed in computers and mathematics.
The military remains about 21 percent black, the Rand Corp. estimates, so it remains a key source of trained manpower.
The International Association of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), which reports only 10 percent of its members are women, doesn't break out how many are African Americans.
However, the latest IEEE salary survey demonstrates the value of an engineering degree: in 2011, median EE income rose nearly 4 percent, to $118,000.
Meanwhile, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), estimates current membership around 35,800. Most are current college students, including those in graduate school, including all engineering disciplines as well as mathematics.
The best way to interest young African Americans in technology is by setting a personal example, NSBE Chairman Calvin Phelps told IBTimes.
Phelps, 24, expects to receive a master's degree in engineering in December. He's already lined up a job designing jet engines at United Technologies' Pratt & Whitney division.
In an interview, Phelps, a self-described Army brat with two older brothers who are already engineers, said he was always interested in the sector. In high school, he mentored younger students in math and sciences.
NSBE works with major companies like IBM and Intel to foster weekend technology camps for black youngsters that interests them in engineering and math.
The best thing about them is that if you bring in 300 kids, you also get 600 parents, Phelps told IBTimes. The parental involvement is crucial in keeping children studying math and science beyond elementary school.
In classrooms, only 54 percent of teachers reported having at least two PCs in the classroom. And only 50 percent of U.S. African-American households had broadband connections compared with 68 percent for the white population.
So while the community at large has fewer assets now, with current cuts in education, efforts to promote African-Americans into the field may grow more difficult. President Obama is proposing a meager $206 million in next year's budget for elementary education in math and science.
However, many large companies have implemented diversity programs to attract and promote talent, often working with universities that are encouraged to do the same.
We see it as a long pipeline issue, Richard Allmendinger, associate dean of Cornell University's College of Engineering for Diversity and Faculty Development, told IBTimes. Cornell, like other top institutions, is mindful of the census, which predicts that by 2020, whites will be in the minority in the U.S.
A lot of people see diversity as an obligation, Allmendinger, a professor of earth sciences, said in an interview. We see it as an opportunity, as well as a necessity.
Still, at Cornell, only 6 percent of the engineering faculty are minorities and only 3 percent are African-Americans, despite heavy recruitment, and cash. Engineering School Dean Lance Collins, a chemical engineer, is African-American.
Collins himself as a great recruiter, his deputy said, because he can speak to other students from their own perspective. The dean got his undergraduate degree at Princeton, with his master's and doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania.
One Cornell recruit is Phelps, the NSBE chairman, who obtained his undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University. They enticed me to come, he told IBTimes, so he turned down offers from NCSU as well as Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Phelps also won a national GEM fellowship specifically targeted for minorities. Still, he'll be finishing up at one of the nation's best-endowed universities.
Meanwhile, the 105 historically black colleges and universities like Hampton, Howard and Lincoln, now enroll about 300,000 students but lack the resources of a Cornell, Princeton or Penn.
Still, they have fostered a cadre of IT-oriented professionals like George of MSTI as well as Eldred White, now IBM's Diversity Relationship Representative, who's recruiting talent to the Armonk, N.Y.-based computer services giant.
Being IBM gives us a leg up in recruitment, White told IBTimes. The company, with a payroll exceeding 425,000, has enormous resources, laboratories and programs that should make it attractive to young black professionals.
Besides direct recruitment, participation in job fairs and links to Facebook and Twitter and virtual sessions with young engineers on technology topics, White said he attends conferences for black engineers, maintains relations to historically black universities and has weapons like IBM's Project View that affords summer internships to young people.
Once a student is at IBM, he can be mentored and if the student has done well, the manager can potentially hire him, White told IBTimes.
Previously employed by a bank, White said for his first five years at IBM, he dealt heavily with the military and veterans, all with some IT training, a traditional entry point for blacks in the sector.
IBM declines to break out its minority population.
There's always more to do, White said.