A guest post from Fearless Strategic Projects Specialist LaToya Staten
This summer I joined the Maryland Tech Council’s board to chair the Technology Inclusivity Initiative (TI2). TI2 is a statewide initiative capitalizing on the strength of the tech council as a statewide organization with almost 500 members and local and national partners in the technology industry.
As part of my work with TI2, the council is working to advance diversity, equity and inclusivity within Maryland’s tech ecosystem. In September, I moderated a conversation on foundational definitions of diversity, equity and inclusivity, and how we, as business leaders in the community, can take actionable steps to support our commitment of DEI in action.
A few takeaways from our DEI in action conversation:
Acknowledge the importance of informal relationships and social capital
I see Maryland as a pretty diverse state. But the diversity reflected in the general population of our state is not always reflected in the tech and business community.
For me personally, throughout my career, I know there are a lot of times when I might be the only person of color in a room and I might not feel as included. Inclusion is about making entrepreneurs feel welcome and making sure they have the resources they need. The concept of social capital and what it can do for entrepreneurs is really important.
At Fearless, one of our core values is: Create Belonging. We encourage others to create environments where everyone can be their authentic selves and make space for others to do the same. Developing an open environment where people feel like they belong and are comfortable will lead to more mentorship and relationship building opportunities.
Mentorship and sharing of social capital doesn’t always have to be a formal process. There can be an informal connection between people to help remove barriers and provide mentorship. The important thing is being intentional when making connections and helping invest in and launch companies
Fearless’ Hutch incubator has a goal of supporting 25 Black and Brown and female founders to build digital services firms in the government space. There are a lot of government contractors here in Maryland, but the contracting community does not adequately reflect the diverse populations they serve. At Hutch we are helping underrepresented entrepreneurs learn to successfully navigate the government contracting space. The mentorship in the Hutch program is key to successfully entering the ecosystem and growing a business.
Talent is everywhere, we should recruit from everywhere:
Some of our best referrals and new employees come from our current team members and their networks. But it’s important to look beyond your circle when hiring. If your company is recruiting and the only universities you’re familiar with are University of Maryland, College Park or Towson University, then you’re missing out on the students and talent that come out of other Maryland colleges and universities, and especially the 4 HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in the state.
The paths for recruitment might be well-worn at the schools you’re most familiar with, but it’s important to tap into other schools as resources and take it upon ourselves as individuals to say we are going to help individuals from those institutions develop their soft skills and make connections.
This summer Fearless piloted its first summer internship program. We made the decision to partner with Morgan State University, UMBC, and the University of Baltimore. Internships can be crucial to junior talent building their early career and making connections. Our goal is to give more people access to opportunities in digital services, and paid internships are a great way to reduce barriers to entry for our industry. By bridging gaps between our community and careers in the civic tech space, junior talent can gain professional experience.
Look beyond traditional pathways for talent:
Not everyone can afford to go to college or it’s not the right choice for them, but they can still be great tech workers.
Tech is a great equalizer; it is skills-based. I’m not discounting the value of a formal education, but there are different ways to achieve in the tech space.
Fearless works with Catalyte to hire people who come from non-traditional backgrounds into tech roles. Catalyte uses machine learning to objectively discover and train candidates who have the potential to become talented software engineers. Background or education isn’t a factor when determining who can be a software engineer at Catalyte. And the platform boasts that program participants see their salary increase 4-fold in the 5 years after going through the Catalyte program.
College can make it easier to develop soft skills, make connections and have some fundamentals about developing a business, but we as business and community leaders can do our part to help people from all backgrounds develop those abilities. And hey, there are lots of entrepreneurs who dropped out of college running multimillion dollar companies.
The Maryland Tech Council and Technology Inclusivity Initiative is continuing this important conversation and we invite you to join us. Sign up for future webinars and other ways to take part.