San Francisco’s rapid economic growth is increasingly being framed in reference to the Tale of Two Cities, and signs of its staggering wealth gap are ubiquitous. Luxury retailers are gravitating to the South Bay to cater to the tastes of newly minted millionaires, the San Francisco Chronicle recently reported, while low-wage workers on opposite sides of the Bay are charging forward with campaigns to increase the minimum wage, since soaring rents and a rising cost of living have made it tricky to achieve basic economic survival.
And while sidewalk graffiti delineating “real San Franciscans” from “techies” has raised some eyebrows, a stark and growing disparity does exist between the abundant tech sector and the day-to-day struggle of lower-paid residents to maintain a foothold. When it comes to the youth being raised in the economic margins — including the thousands in San Francisco public schools — that contrast has disturbing implications. Can the kids who weren’t born into wealth hope to someday raise families of their own in San Francisco?
Some tech companies have signaled that they wish to do the right thing — or at the very least, they’ve taken seriously their commitments under a deal with the city that requires community givebacks in exchange for a sweetheart tax break. Zendesk, which unveiled its newly renovated, plush corporate headquarters July 9, has promised to welcome Mid-Market residents into its palatial building for community dinners and events, with an emphasis on youth programming.
But to create real opportunities for up-and-coming generations to sustain themselves, the thriving tech industry needs to go a lot farther than welcoming the poor kids into the gleaming office space. If tech wants to coexist in harmony with the community members who are bearing the brunt of this dramatic economic shift, then tech needs to act like a community member.
That doesn’t mean spreading wealth around here and there, to placate local anger. Nor does it mean checking a box to fulfill obligations. It means seeking community partnerships, finding ways to hire local, racially diverse applicants, and partnering with educational institutions to carve out reliable pathways for disadvantaged youth to connect with decent-paying jobs.
This week’s cover story turns its gaze upon the “brogrammer,” that stereotypically white tech-sector worker perceived as self-absorbed, clueless about sexism, and unaware of his fantastic privilege. The “brogrammer” is the boastful, misogynistic brat who has it all, thanks to his connections and his programming skills.
In the current climate, the “brogrammer” may as well represent the aristocracy in San Francisco’s own version of the Tale of Two Cities. But if tech manages to grow up a bit and make a concerted effort to solve its own diversity problem, the industry could open a new chapter in its relationship with San Francisco.