This article originally appeared in FreshWater Cleveland, Sept. 25, 2019
There’s a sea of jobs in technology, but white, Indian and Asian men seem to be the only ones sailing it. However, this severe lack of diversity in the talent pool has prompted industry, professionals, and advocates to find ways to change the dynamics.
“I feel safe to say there’s less than 10% minorities with respect to African-Americans and Latinos in tech careers,” says Grady Burrows, director of health IT talent at BioEnterprise, leading the HITintheCLE initiative.
The low number is the reason why BioEnterprise, which helps bioscience companies grow, brought Burrows onboard. And the companies he works with on its behalf have all identified the inability to identify diverse talent as their biggest pain point.
“Companies are beginning to recognize that it will be difficult to remain sustainable if they are unable to find local talent,” Burrows says.
When exploring the why, several factors arise. “There’s multilayers to this problem,” says Nigamanth Sridhar, dean of the College of Graduate Studies and professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Cleveland State University.
“At every stage, you’re going to lose more people,” Sridhar says. If the top of the funnel isn’t broad and doesn’t include diverse talent, the scarcity of women and minorities in this field will persist, he says.
Burrows, Sridhar, and Anthony Gillespie, senior program manager at the Ohio Aerospace Institute, all cite a lack of k-12 preparedness as one of the main contributors to this issue.
Gillespie also cites limited exposure to the industry and mentors in addition to limited access to high speed internet in urban and rural communities as other factors. Young people must be exposed to technology the same way they are exposed to sports, he says. “I am a proponent of introducing them to experiential learning that triggers the thinking into I can make this a career.”
Several programs across the city of Cleveland provide this type of nurturing to minority students with hopes of moving them into the talent pipeline.
CS4ALL, led by Sridhar, is a central resource for individuals and organizations interested in k-12 computer science education. They connect providers, schools and districts, funders, and researchers working toward the goal of providing quality computer science education to every child in the United States.
Through this effort, computer science course work is offered in about half of Cleveland Metropolitan School District schools, including John Marshall School of Information Technology, the first in the state to focus on computer science.
There are also summer camps to continuously engage students. “We’ve consistently seen interest in these camps,” Sridhar says. The message “we need you” is being communicated to the students who participate, he says.
Because the need for software development and data science is increasingly growing in the health care space, BioEnterprise’s HITintheCLE initiative connects the various players working toward the goal of providing quality computer science education to every child in the United States. One of the cornerstones of this program is the community classroom, for students from Cleveland and its inner ring suburbs, in the Global Center for Health Innovation.
“We’re empowering them to be successful in the 21st century economy,” Burrows says. “If they can see what’s possible, they can begin to dream.”
On the other side of the spectrum is RITE, the leading industry-driven IT workforce alliance in Northeast Ohio. As the unifying force for the region’s talent development system, it brings together industry, education, and economic and workforce development to build highly skilled IT talent needed by Northeast Ohio employers.
Additionally, Gillespie’s work at the Ohio Aerospace Institute provides assistance through state and federal grants to small businesses involved in high tech ventures. “People forget, aerospace involves a lot of technology,” he said. “We’re top five across the nation as a supplier of parts to major aerospace companies.”
Gillespie also asserts the seriousness of this issue. “There is a need for more diversity in the tech industry,” he said. “I think we would have more innovation that needs to happen.”
Plus, according to all three men, the jobs are plentiful even for midcareer professionals seeking to retool. Tech Elevator is a great initiative for training adults in tech, Sridhar says.
“There are opportunities out there for anyone who wants to pursue a career,” Gilllespie says. At the same time, he is clear that “not all doors are wide open, some are cracked, waiting for us to come in.” Sridhar agrees that the environment needs to be welcoming.
For those interested in IT, Gillespie says, “It’s about finding the right fit and value to what you’re bringing to the table.”