Hundreds recently gathered at the annual NPower Gala in New York City to recognize two tech titans who have helped power the transformation of the industry over the past two decades: David Steward, chairman of the Maryland Heights, Missouri-based information technology giant World Wide Technology Inc. (No. 1 on the BE Top 100 list with $11.3 billion in revenues) and John Thompson, the 40-year tech veteran who serves as chairman of Microsoft Corp.

During the fundraiser for the Brooklyn-based nonprofit that provides no-cost training for veterans and youth to launch digital careers, the event also served as the venue for an exclusive fireside chat in which Thompson and Steward discussed, among other topics, how diversity can save the American tech industry.

In the session, moderated by NBC’s Weekend Today co-host Sheinelle Jones, the two told the audience that diverse engineers and computer scientists were needed to address the industry’s talent shortage. Thompson maintains that the future global competitiveness of American companies depends on whether they “open the aperture on diversity,” given that the U.S. produces only 50,000 to 80,000 tech professionals annually versus about 1 million for China.

Since by 2040, minorities will be the majority, Steward adds that for every company, “it is a business imperative” and the ability to attract and keep such talent will prove “pivotal” for innovation and growth at WWT and other such firms over the next 20 years. In fact, WWT has forged a long-term partnership with NPower to facilitate the flow of proficient, idea-rich tech professionals.

The two also focused on the state of women of color within the sector. Thompson, a venture partner for Lightspeed Venture Partners, a Silicon Valley firm that invests in early-stage enterprise technology and consumer products companies, says he’s had more black female founders reach out to him than ever before. However, they face the same nagging problem in trying to grow their enterprises: capital. ProjectDiane, named for 1960s civil rights leader Diane Nash, found that a mere 34 startups led by black women had raised more than $1 million in financing, according to a USA Today article published earlier this year.

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