How Indy tech can choose inclusion and win the future

Courtesy of Be Nimble Ventures

The growth Indy tech is experiencing isn’t an accident; it’s the result of years-long planning, hard work and community building. But the tech landscape in Indianapolis still has room to grow, especially with respect to diversity and inclusion. Powderkeg’s inaugural Tech Census shows that just 10 percent of respondents identified as ethnic minorities — a number that reveals just how slowly the city’s growth has affected tech professionals of color.

Be Nimble and its founder, Kelli Jones, aim to change those numbers by leading frank, productive conversations. The most recent #NimbleTalks at the Fashion Mall’s Microsoft Store featured panelists in different stages of their careers: talent acquisition, sales and software engineering were among the paths represented. From getting started in tech to leveling up in careers, the panelists shared personal stories and actionable advice for the audience. But Melanie White’s comment — “Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice” — became the center of the discussion.

Melanie, who oversees talent acquisition at Emarsys, was sharing how she and other talent managers approach finding and hiring candidates of color. Other panelists, like nimblejack’s Kalvin Jones, suggested that black and brown people who want careers in tech focus on self-improvement and networking. But the consensus among the panelists was that tech companies must do more to reach out and cultivate a more diverse talent pool. How can Indy’s tech companies make diversity and inclusion a priority? What does it take to find and retain talented people of color?

It’s who you know

Building a professional network can be difficult for everyone, but it can be especially challenging for candidates of color. People often begin building their networks in college, which can present a barrier for black and brown graduates who have chosen to leave the state after school in search of employment. Kalvin encouraged audience members to stay in Indiana to help build the kind of change they want to see in the industry.

Organizations like Nextech are devoted to helping build a more diverse pipeline from high school and beyond — but the issue for many black and brown candidates is access, not education. That might mean the onus is on Indianapolis tech companies to facilitate networking opportunities from post-high school to mid-career.

It’s what you do

While there was discussion of how to build a talent pipeline for candidates of color, Springbuk business development rep Jaylen Fenderson pointed out that skills outside of traditional “tech” roles are still needed at tech companies. Jaylen’s role in early-stage sales is common across industries, and the skills needed for a successful sales career are transferable. Other fields like marketing, design, and operations can also easily find places in all sizes of tech companies.

He and Melanie also touched on how “company culture” can be a slippery concept in tech companies. Interviewing for culture fit can weed out strong candidates, crowding out people of color in favor of more familiar faces. This implies that tech companies must also change how they view company culture: what it means and how they build it.

It’s how you do it

Although tech companies must choose to make inclusion a priority, it’s also the responsibility of tech workers of color to help pave the way for more talent that looks like them. TechPoint’s Al Carroll, who moderated the panel, tied network building to holding the door open for black and brown people who want to work in tech.

Creating spaces to openly discuss diversity and inclusion is just the first step, but it’s still an important one — one that Kelli has been taking since last year’s inaugural #DisruptIndy. The second #DisruptIndy conference takes place this September. “We want #NimbleTalks to be the beginning of improving diversity and inclusion in Indy tech,” said Kelli, who is also the new director of people and culture at Givelify. “These discussions are never easy, but building a thriving ecosystem isn’t easy, either. It takes all of us to make the community stronger.”

Last night’s first #NimbleTalks is just one data point among the many efforts to improve diversity. But making inclusion in Indy tech is a choice — and it’s a choice that we all must make, every day, to create the kind of community that welcomes everyone.

You can register for future #NimbleTalks, including the upcoming talk on April 18, at Be Nimble’s website.

About the Author

Sharmin Kent is the content manager for Quantifi, the world’s leading social ads platform for what’s to come. Sharmin has been a part of the Indianapolis tech community for nearly a decade. She’s also a huge sci-fi/spec-fic geek.