Per Scholas and ITSMF Bring Diverse by Design Conversation Series to National Society of Black Engineers Annual Conference

Per Scholas and the Information Technology Senior Management Forum (ITSMF) hosted the third Diverse by Design conversation series on Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Annual Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.

The NSBE Conference, focused on “increasing the number of culturally responsible Black Engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community” provided and energetic and inspiring backdrop for the event. Nearly 150 participants including business and community leaders, teachers, college students, engineers and workforce development advocates joined the engaging and frank conversation about building diversity and inclusion in the workforce.

Damien Howard, VP, Social Ventures at Per Scholas kicked off the event by sharing a favorite quote of his grandfather’s, “when you are deeply rooted in your beliefs, you do not have to fear turbulent waves.” He then continued by saying he was “proud to be a room of deeply rooted agents of change.”

Matthew Nelson, National Chair of NSBE and Dr. Karl Reid, Executive Director of NSBE then took the stage to share more about NSBE’s mission to increase diversity in the engineering field. Dr. Karl Reid shared that NSBE has set a bold goal of graduating 10,000 African-American bachelor degree recipients in engineering annually by 2025 up from the current number of 3,620. Matthew Nelson added how personal this initiative is to him, “I am a college dropout on my way to receiving my doctorate. This would not have been possible without the support of NSBE.”

NSBE’s leadership opportunities also had an impact on helping shape Stephanie LeBlanc, Revenue Intelligence Analyst at Google’s career path. Stephanie kicked off her Ignite presentation by challenging the audience to be aware of and challenge “the unconscious bias that helps define one’s potential based on their skin color.” She beseeched listeners to use any opportunity to set an example for children and young adults and reinforce to them that “they can do it – whatever ‘it’ is for them.” Stephanie ended her speech with one final thought, “the butterfly effect is the idea that a very small difference in the initial state of a physical system can make a significant difference to that state at some later time.  And Diverse by Design is the flap of a butterfly’s wing that has and will continue to make a significant difference.  Now the question is, what will be yours?”

Ken Walker, VP of Operations, Per Scholas then introduced the Keynote Conversation with Plinio Ayala, President and CEO of Per Scholas and Tony Spinelli, cybersecurity and risk management expert and Per Scholas National Board Member by recognizing both speakers’ unwavering commitment to creating opportunities and promoting inclusion. Plinio and Tony’s conversation focused primarily on how to provide a path to opportunity for talented, high-potential individuals from overlooked communities. Tony stressed that creating a diverse talent pipeline is a win-win-win for employers, employees and the community but cautioned that “diversity is not a mathematical equation. It’s a cultural change.” And to truly drive change, uncomfortable conversations are required Tony noted, “the tough part is speaking [about diversity] to people who do not believe in it.”

Next up Viola Maxwell-Thompson, President of ITSMF took to the stage to shed light on some staggering statistics about women in the tech industry including that more than 56 percent of women in technology leave the industry. Viola shared that she herself was almost one of these women but that a former boss helped her find the work-life balance she needed to raise her family. Encouraging all employers to “hear her voice” is a key goal of ITSMF. The organization has created the Emerge Women’s Leadership Forum to “increase the number of women of color in technology from 9% to 15% by 2025 through a series of professional workshops, supportive environments and model leadership, and by doing so amplify the nuance of women leaders.”

The momentum continued with a lively panel discussion moderated by Errika Mallett, VP of Member Services & External Affairs at ITSMF with Jonna Gerken, President-Elect, Society of Women Engineers, Stephanie LeBlanc, Revenue Intelligence Analyst, Google, Tonya Parris, President, The Parris Foundation and Sean Wright, Managing Director, Accenture. The panel addressed many questions from the audience about best practices for “engineering diversity” and critical elements to employee retention. Retention recommendations included having more transparent and frequent reviews, being intentional about pairing career counselors and mentors and making employees feel like they are being invested in.”  Stephanie LeBlanc noted that a major reason why companies lose talent is when employees feel like they do not have what Google calls “psychological safety: the freedom and ability to be their authentic self.”

To close out the program, Co-Chairs of the National Working Group, Toacca Rutherford, Chief Development Officer, Consumer Business Banking and Auto IT, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Gene Waddy, CEO at DIVERSANT took the stage. The National Working Group of leaders from the public, private, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors are focused on “intentionally rebuilding the onramp into STEM” said Gene. Finally, Richard White, National Professional Chairperson of NSBE thanked guests for attending the conversation.

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