The NY Times reports that Google is embedding engineers into Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) in a bid to increase diversity in its technical staff. Currently only around 1% of Google’s engineers are African American, and the company said last year that its workforce diversity was “miles” from where it wanted to be.

HBCUs are higher education institutions established before 1964 primarily to serve the black community, while accepting students of all ethnic backgrounds. There are more than 106 HSBUs in the USA, and Google is so far sending engineers to five of the biggest … 

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The issue, said one of the students later hired by Google, is not that ethnic minority students lack the skills or the grades, but that they didn’t believe in themselves enough to apply or to create great resumes.

“What they discovered was a lot of people weren’t even applying to Google because we didn’t believe we were skilled enough to do it,” said Howard University graduating senior Christopher Hocutt. “Once we realized we have the skills, we just needed mentorship to make our resume look good, get through the interview, have confidence to try.”

Google recently topped Fortune‘s 100 Best Companies to Work For, and Hocutt applied only after encouragement from Google software engineer Sabrina Williams, who spent a semester working at Howard as a professor and mentor. Williams said that her own experience inspired her to participate in the program.

Fifteen years ago, Williams was the only female African American computer science major at Stanford University. “I kind of felt awkward so I kind of hid a lot,” she said. “It was very difficult.”

The five colleges selected by Google are Howard University, Hampton University, Fisk University and Spelman and Morehouse colleges in Atlanta.

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