Black Tech Talent Provides Space for Minnesota Technologists to Connect

Amid a race for racial equity across America in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd, an online community run by a Minneapolis business has become a resource for companies that are doubling down on their promises to diversify their staff.

Minnesota Cup finalist Black Tech Talent connects tech professionals with companies looking for diverse talent. The online community is also a place for black professionals to have honest conversations about the challenges of being a racial minority in tech companies, founder Michael Jackson said.

Jackson started working on his rig a month before Floyd died. It launched the job board in July 2020. It now has 40 partner companies, including Target, HealthPartners, Sunrise Bank and the Minnesota Twins and its owner, Pohlad Cos. Most of the approximately 4,000 black professionals at the Jackson site are from Minnesota.

Between 2010 and 2020, Minnesota’s black population grew by 46%, its Asian population by 40%, and those who identify as Hispanic by 38%, according to recent Census Bureau data. Almost a quarter of Minnesotans are now people of color, data shows.

Conversely, people of color remain underrepresented in tech jobs, from coding to cybersecurity in Minnesota and the United States. In 2019, 78% of tech professionals in Minnesota identified themselves as white, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). Less than 4% identified as black and 2.7% identified as Hispanic or Latin American of any race.

Jackson looked for a way to change that.

“We wanted to highlight black technologists and show not only other black people, but also these corporate clients – the HR people, diversity and inclusion managers, and IT hiring managers – that there is has blacks who already operate at a high level in technology, ”Jackson mentioned. “No matter how rare you may perceive them to be in your department or in your business, many of us are scattered.”

A 10-year analysis by DEED shows that there will be nearly 91,000 job openings in computer-related occupations in Minnesota through 2028.

Minnesota needs to deepen its talent pool to fill these jobs, said Steve Grove, commissioner of DEED. It means tapping into black and brown communities to train future tech professionals.

“These are the highest paying jobs in our economy,” Grove said. “These are the jobs that everyone wants, and they are grossly under-represented by people of color. We have the opportunity in Minnesota to differentiate ourselves on this front.”

Through its recently launched Minnesota tech training pilot program, DEED is allocating $ 1 million between four organizations that are specifically focused on creating a pipeline for people of color for tech jobs, Grove said. If the pilot project is successful, the ministry could invest more government funds in the program.

“It’s a huge priority for our administration, for a whole lot of reasons, but the basis of it is important because we see the tech industry as a major area of ​​growth for Minnesota, and the pipeline couldn’t be. stronger in our state than it is today, ”Grove said.

In the private sector, the Tech Inclusion Alliance, a consortium of CIOs from several Fortune 500 companies in the Twin Cities like Target, 3M Co., Ecolab and UnitedHealth Group, is partnering with the Minnesota Technology Association to design a new initiative they hope will diversify the tech workforce in Minnesota, said Minnesota Technology Association president Jeff Tollefson.

The alliance is in its very early stages of development, but it will have dedicated staff who will orchestrate programming around the education of IT in K-12 systems, and the strategy for recruiting, developing skills and retention among various professionals, said Tollefson.

“This is something we need to change, because we need to make sure that our tech workforce better reflects the mosaic of cultures that make up the Twin Cities today,” Tollefson said.

The alliance will also examine public policy changes and leverage the civic sector and state government to elevate the initiative, he said.

More coalitions of large and small business are needed to maintain open communication about how tech companies and businesses that need tech talent can be more inclusive, said Nancy Lyons, co-founder and CEO of the development firm. Minneapolis ClockWork software.

In 2016, Lyons, a white woman who also identifies as gay, started the Minnesota Technology Diversity Pledge. Businesses and organizations that are committed to supporting the growth of more LGBTQ, people of color, people with disabilities, and women in tech positions across the state. The list of those who have made the pledge includes Best Buy, Optum, the Metropolitan Economic Development Association or MEDA, Vista Outdoor, and the Minnesota Technology Association.

Ahead of the pandemic, Clockwork hosted quarterly events, including forums and panel discussions on topics such as how to support fellow Muslims, be transgender in the workplace, and how to be anti-racist.

During the pandemic, these events moved to virtual settings. Next month ClockWork will host an online anti-racism training session.

Lyons said there had been an influx of companies interested in the engagement after Floyd’s death.

“When George Floyd arrived there were a lot of organizations that were suddenly looking for places to put their energy, invest and show off,” she said. “It was a calculation in many ways and people recognized that they might not have done all they could as a business before.”

After 25 years in the business, however, Lyon is still struck by the lack of diversity in the state’s tech industry. She regularly participates in online conversations with other women about the micro-assaults they’ve experienced in the workplace, where tech-savvy women are belittled, scoffed at and discussed, she said.

“As a white woman, if I’m still going through this, I can’t imagine what it must feel like for people of color trying to find their way into an industry where they don’t see themselves,” he said. she declared.

Jackson hopes his platform will give Dark Tech a voice and a chance to talk about their journey. Within the online community, there are conversations about natural hair in the workplace, the feeling of having to work harder than white co-workers and the challenges of breaking into the industry, he said. .

Jackson, who prior to developing Black Tech Talent created a ticketing and booking platform for concert and venue organizers, is using $ 25,000 in MN Cup prizes to develop an employer-employee correspondence application. The app will automatically match a person to a job description, duties and skills.

Earlier this month, Black Tech Talent hosted the Community Tech Fest at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. The one-day festival showcased virtual and augmented reality devices, robotics, and computer game systems.

During the event, Jackson revealed a superhero character who he hopes will draw black youth to tech. The content around the character, called Black Circuit, will be based on learning the character about the different technologies that can power his costume. As the character learns about the different technologies, the young people will learn about the trades that give birth to this technology, Jackson said.

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