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Our future is being built on IT. Businesses rely more on innovation each year to help run critical parts of their operations, to drive new efficiencies and the improve their competitive position. Those trends would be fantastic if only there were enough skilled IT professionals to make it all work.
Our industry is a great example. The skills gap continues to grow and increasing competition for new and existing talent is leaving many companies with unfilled positions and restricting their new business opportunities.
On the flip side, whether in cities like Chicago and Atlanta, or smaller communities throughout the country, the path to a solid career in our industry may not be clear. Outreach and empowerment programs may be needed to help underrepresented and underserved groups understand all the opportunities in IT. For example, would mentoring and targeted training inspire more African-Americans, Hispanics and Latinos to pursue tech careers and lessen the skills gap?
That was among the many questions CompTIA members have been asking over the past few years, looking for new ways to reach out to communities that haven’t engaged as much as others. And some of the answers started to emerge during the inaugural meeting of the Advancing Diversity in Technology (ADIT) Community at AMM.
This is not about parity and quotas in the workforce. The community is about empowering people of color with information and giving them access to the training and programs CompTIA offers its broad membership.
Another goal is to lead by example, getting more successful tech professionals involved in mentoring and inspiring others in their communities to pursue careers in IT. That’s spelled out in the Advancing Diversity in Technology Community Mission: to support and promote workforce diversity by being the leading advocate for the advancement of African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos within the technology industry.
The visionaries who spearheaded the community’s launch efforts know a lot about that last point. Nathan Archer of A & H Technology Group, Barry Williams of Comcast Business (also member of the CompTIA Board of Directors) and Aaron Woods of Xerox have been inspiring prospective peers for decades. Those is attendance at the AMM meeting applauded their contributions, as well as many others who helped get the group off the ground.
Up and Away!
What better way to define the community’s mission than to have Fabian Elliott deliver the keynote. CEO of Black Tech Mecca, a data-driven think tank dedicated to addressing the most critical issues impacting how tech ecosystems serve black tech communities, he shared some of the latest research, as well as his own career journey. African-Americans hold 9% of the IT jobs, compared with 13% of the total workforce, with some studies showing a substantially larger disparity (especially in high-tech communities). Elliott noted that inclusion is not the key since the problem goes deeper than the numbers. “We need to be thinking about empowerment. I believe there is incredible tech potential that our industry needs to tap into. More than ever, we need to find ways to unleash that talent, to get the biggest and brightest minds involved.”
That’s a win-win opportunity, giving tech companies a deeper pool of talent while potentially pulling millions out of poverty — not to mention breaking at least a few rungs on that chain gangs and drugs have on some areas of our country. As noted during the community meeting’s open remarks, the median salaries of black workers in tech is $64,000 compared with $30,000 in other industries.
Elliott asked attendees to look to the story of the three women featured in the recent big screen hit Hidden Figures as an example. “It’s been huge in influencing the ways people think about diversity and inclusion. Those women found a way to empower themselves and each other, as well as other key people along the way. If their power had not been unlocked, would the moon mission have been successful?” Empowerment of underserved communities, including blacks/Hispanics and women, could make an even bigger positive impact on the IT industry.
Many challenges remain ahead. Are four-year college degree requirements for an entry-level IT position really needed, or do they simply serve as a barrier to a more diverse workforce? Elliott used his own story to illustrate the hurdles many from underserved communities face. The Fayetteville, NC native with a passion for math and football suffered a career ending injury before pursuing a career in marketing.
Elliott’s quest for the perfect internship illustrated the value of networking, and engaging with others to acquire the skills required to succeed. Others empowered him with support and guidance. After college, he landed a position with Google and enjoyed success with the support of his bosses and co-workers. But he also realized “others of color were not experiencing the same environment.”
Later, Elliott started a chapter of the Black Googler Network, an organization with hundreds of members before deciding to create Black Tech Mecca. “We were going great work, but only in the four walls of Google. What if we could take similar principles to the greater community? That lead us to pursue building a thriving black tech eco-system.”
How can you help? Attendees of the first Advancing Diversity in Technology Community were asked to take part in inaugural activities and spread the word. Some first steps include:
The goal is to get more members of the black and Hispanic communities involved in technology (and not just coding). That will require mentorships at all levels for virtually every possible role, from the help desk and web design to IT sales and marketing positions. Companies that don’t have at least a basic diversity plan should adopt one to ensure everyone has a fair chance at a job and advancement.
Regardless of your IT experience and position, you can help. Stay tuned for details on how you can join the Advancing Diversity in Technology Community and empower a new, broader generation of industry professionals.