Inspiring Success

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October 15, 2018

Keep the Diverse in IT

By Lisa Fasold

We’ve all heard the rallying cry over the last few years to increase diversity in the tech industry. It’s still a white-male dominated workforce. Yet, research consistently shows that companies with the most diverse executive teams are 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability. So, as we’re delivering more diverse hires to the tech industry, what can the industry do to retain them?


While networking over breakfast, more than 60 employers in the Twin Cities learned about the IT-Ready career program and how it’s diversifying the tech workforce and heard from a panel of HR and technology leaders about the issues minority employees often face in the tech industry. The Fifth Annual IT-Ready Employer Breakfast was part of Twin Cities Startup Week.

Men talking

Clare Jacky, people operations partner, Drip, noted, “Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are unique to each organization, and often creating D&I can disrupt the systems in an organization. The velocity of business in tech especially can lead people to sidestep D&I and mentoring. However, you need to show how D&I are important for even high-performing teams within your organization.”


Ty Thomas, senior diversity recruiter, US Bank, said that his company wants its staff to relate to the customers they serve. He uses financial scare tactics with leadership to persuade them to comply with inclusiveness tactics.


“We’ve also set up an online mentor-connect program so that mentors and mentees can connect easily, and we train employees about being aware of unconscious bias,” said Thomas.


Karl Battle, R&D software engineer, 3M, advised attendees to make this year the year of the mentor. “How can you mentor and sponsor employees to get them to the next level,” he asked.


Cargill has launched a sponsorship program within their company to actively boost women up the career ladder. On an individual level, June Yoshinari Davis, global inclusion and diversity leader, Cargill, pushes her co-workers to “PAN, pay attention now: who is in the room, who speaks, who gets interrupted. These small habits can be very impactful, so that all employers can be themselves and be seen and valued for who they are.”


One of our own IT-Ready graduates, Angie Pabon, sat in on the panel. Pabon came into tech as she started her second career. Originally she moved to New Jersey from Puerto Rico and ended up working as a public school administrator in Philadelphia, later earning her masters from CUNY/Baruch College. But after several years in the school system, she was burnt out and moved to Minnesota to reinvent herself.

Angie Pabon talking on the panel

Pabon recognized there were several resources offered by the Twin Cities community for people wanted to start a second career. She worked odd jobs while in Minnesota, but by 2016 she was running out of funds and considered moving back to Philly. Then she found IT-Ready and applied for our women-only class. After she got accepted for the class, she almost considered turning us down, thinking that someone younger should be awarded her coveted spot. On the first day of class, the only thing that got her out of bed that day was knowing she was taking a spot from someone else who may have applied.


Eight weeks later, Pabon had thrived in class, earning her CompTIA A+ certification and graduating. She took a job with Corporate Technologies as a remote maintenance technician a month after she graduated and six months later moved onto the help desk.


“Nobody in the world thought I looked like a technie,” said Pabon. When she moved onto the help desk, it was “sink or swim”. Luckily her co-workers help her learn.


“My mother is a retired science teacher and taught me to troubleshoot problems using the scientific method,” Pabon said. “I’m a lifelong learner.”


She noted that “we’re all technies,” meaning technies can come in every race, gender or age.


“Since the tech industry is still dominated by white males, at most businesses, learning still happens informally, while colleagues are hanging out or at lunch. The problem is that colleagues hang out with their friends that may be the same race or gender, and that makes it harder for people not in those gender or race groups to gain that informal learning,” said Pabon. She called on attendees to find a way to formalize learning so that everyone can access it.


Moderating the panel, Alicia Sojourner, racial equity manager, City of St. Louis Park, said, “It takes emotional labor for some people to live and lead. Be aware of the emotional labor each employee may have.”


Battle asked the audience, “What can we do to let employees know that they can show up as their best selves?” When recruiting, he said to tell new hires that you encourage them to be their best self, be it their clothes, their lifestyle or demeanor.

People talking on the panel

For new hires, Battle told managers to “give them a purpose, a reason to show up, and then give them the freedom to contribute to that purpose.”


Davis echoed his sentiments, preaching to the audience about “psychological safety: Make sure everyone feels safe to be themselves, and allow people to take risks.”


Our IT-Ready Employer Breakfast was sponsored by DecisionOne, Fairview Health Services and GED Testing. Special thanks also to our mission investors: Atomic DataCompTIAJewish Family & Children's Services of MinneapolisThe Minneapolis Foundation and Otto Bremer Foundation, and to our host sponsor, HealthPartners. Employers wishing to diversify their tech staff who also may be interested in hiring our IT-Ready graduates, can contact Kate Kirschner in our Edina, MN, office.