How is Tech Embracing Diversity? These Industry Professionals Weighed In
The technology industry has been stereotyped as a white, male-dominated field for decades — and with good data to back it up. In fact, according to a Diversity in High Tech report conducted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the tech sector employs a larger share of white (68.5 percent) male (64 percent) individuals. However, the tech field is slowly changing, allowing for greater representation across races, genders, and other minority identities.
FDM Group is one organization that is directly contributing to closing the skills gap through recruitment, training, and deployment of skilled IT and business professionals around the world. To close out their celebration of Black History Month, Brianna Dudley, a recruiter for FDM, and co-host Damien Greatheart, a Computer Information Systems Professor at Livingstone College, held a panel discussion centered around diversity in the workplace.
Guest panelists included:
- Asada Kimbo, Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships, 2U, Inc.
- Terell Kirby, Vice President; Insights Delivery Testing Manager, Bank of America
- Toyin Okunuga, Project Officer, FDM Group
- Tyrone Robinson, Owner, Opportunities 2 Serve, LLC
Throughout the discussion, panelists shared their personal experiences as minorities working in the tech industry and offered helpful tips for overcoming impostor syndrome, making your voice heard, and knowing the difference between discrimination and misunderstanding. Here are their top takeaways.
Cherish every opportunity
There are a variety of pathways that lead to technical roles, and many of them aren’t obvious from the outset. Before he became an Insights Delivery Testing Manager for Bank of America, Terell Kirby was working toward his management degree when he stumbled upon an internship opportunity. What started out as a QA testing role transitioned into a technical role — all because Terell wasn’t afraid to ask questions. “Being open to new opportunities and learning experiences helped me navigate the space and not be so scared,” he told panelists.
Asada Kimbo and Toyin Okunuga shared similar experiences; both women identified as a late-in-life career-changer after having children and going back to school. After landing a job with 2U, Inc., Asada dove headfirst into her first technical role and has been learning and growing her skills ever since. For Toyin, it was all about overcoming intimidation and embracing the opportunity to ask questions — with a little encouragement from her coworkers. “I just plunge in and don’t hold back.”
Regardless of where each panelist started out in their careers, it was their openness to new
Leverage your strengths — and embrace your weaknesses
Many people are surprised to find out that working in a technical role involves more than just technical skills — soft skills are equally important to a successful career. Working in accounting, Toyin knew she had more to give, but was intimidated by technology. She reminded herself of the adage: The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, but the man who doesn’t ask is a fool for life. Rather than looking at her skills from a lacking standpoint, she leveraged her existing skills to be able to work more closely with the technical teams at FDM, asking questions no matter how silly it felt.
Starting out on the Strategic Partnerships team for 2U’s Trilogy-powered boot camps, Asada was “Googling everything, trying to figure out what technologies matched with the talents and skills our graduates had.” She knew she had the ability to match qualified candidates with technical roles, and didn’t let her limited knowledge of the industry get in the way of her success. Now, she still has a lot to learn, but isn’t afraid to admit it: “I’m not familiar with that, but I’ll take a look.”
Everyone brings a different set of skills to the table. Regardless of the gap between your current knowledge and your professional goals, remember that you have valid experience to lend and leverage — and there’s always something to learn from the people around you.
Be willing to speak up
The best way to be recognized for your work and ideas is simple: make your voice heard. While it sounds easier said than done, it’s just like any other skill — the more you do it, the easier it’ll feel. “When you speak up, people know you speak up. People know what to expect from you,” Brianna Dudley, a recruiter for FDM, told the group.
As a Black or minority employee, the task can feel particularly daunting, especially if there isn’t anyone in leadership who looks like you. But it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you’re not careful; Terell explained the importance of perspective. “How much of the racial component is holding you back? Connect with leaders who don’t look like you,” he challenged attendees. Rather than looking at the racial disparity as a roadblock, letting your work speak for itself can help you leverage your experience within the organization.
While it can be difficult to find motivation without adequate representation within leadership, it’s not impossible. Look at your work from an objective standpoint, determine the path you want to take, and communicate your professional goals to leadership so they can help you reach them.
Leaders, be willing to listen
The panelists also discussed how organizations can foster a more inclusive working environment from the top-down. As a business-to-business service provider, Tyrone Robinson has worked with many company leaders, and noted that the most inclusive environments have an increased focus on dialogue, communication, and accountability. The three things he looks for in any organization: reduced barriers in areas of trust, transparency, and communication; built-in opportunities for employees to voice concerns; and high engagement from employees and leadership.
For Terell, inclusivity means bringing your “whole self” to work. “How much code switching is necessary to be successful within the organization?” Simply put, the Harvard Business Review defines code switching as “adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities.” For Black individuals and members of other minority groups, code switching can have a profound effect on their work and output — making its necessity (or lack thereof) Terell’s key measuring stick when it comes to office inclusivity. He added another key point for business leaders: “Solicit feedback from the people reporting to you.”
Employees are holding companies more accountable than ever, and it’s crucial to Black and minority workers that the changes that occur are lasting, not performative. As a business leader, it’s imperative that you ensure all employees within your organization feel safe and free to be themselves in the workplace. Ask questions, create roadmaps, and don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board.
Process feedback mindfully
In any workplace, there’s plenty of potential for feedback to be misinterpreted, so it’s crucial to be willing to take a step back and change your perspective whenever possible. Even if you don’t agree with the feedback, do your best to understand the situation as thoroughly as you can. Terell explained that internal encouragement can help combat feelings of insecurity; simply looking at failure as a learning opportunity can create a positive shift in your overall performance and happiness at work.
Of course, it’s not always so easy. At the end of the day, it’s important to keep in mind that your work is meant to meet wider organizational goals and isn’t a reflection of who you are as a person. “Don’t take things personally,” Toyin added. “Don’t be defensive about feedback or assume that people don’t like you.”
At the end of the day, we all have a role to play within our respective organizations, and businesses across the globe are recognizing the importance of diversity and inclusion within the workplace. While there’s still work to be done, the panelists agree that things are progressing in a positive direction for Black and minority employees everywhere. “We’ll get there,” Toyin said. “We’re taking small steps.”
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