I know well that a report spotlighting the latest diversity stats and trends in Chicago tech won’t solve our persistent equity problems.
What we need is business and education leaders to step up in a few critical ways to engage Black and Latinx students early and often throughout the entire education lifecycle (more on that later).
So I was spirited by the dozens of responses we received earlier this month to Katherine Davis’ article “Chicago’s Tech Diversity Problem Starts in College” and the report “The State of Chicago Tech Talent” my organization, P33, published based on data and executive conversations with the Tech Talent Coalition, a group of 40 tech-centric companies in Chicago from Allstate, United Airlines, and JPMorgan Chase, to Relativity and Narrative Science.
What we heard fell into two categories:
1. “Yikes, this is really bad. We need to do something,”
2. “Let me tell you about what we’re doing on this issue.”
These reactions were neither cynicism nor yawns, but instead, productive energy.
Which is why, at P33, we are bullish on Chicago: As a city we’re getting more honest about our areas for improvement and have momentum underway.
The toplines from our report underscore that while tech career opportunities in Chicago are growing rapidly (more than 90 percent of Chicago companies anticipate growth of their software engineering and data teams over the next three years), these opportunities are not equally accessible to all Chicagoans (only 14 percent of our tech workers are Black or Latinx).
The opportunity gap results from shortcomings in the education pipeline as well as barriers erected—intentional or not—by company practices.
It will take businesses and educational institutions stepping up in a few critical ways to address these tech talent inequities:
First, businesses must reach into college to engage Black and Latinx students as freshman and sophomores. Illinois likely loses more than 70 percent of Black and Latinx students who show up to college with an interest in STEM but leave school or ultimately pursue non-STEM majors. Moreover, students of color often have less access to the early project or internship opportunities that companies look for when filling junior-year internships, which are the “golden ticket” for students seeking a first job. To address both challenges, companies can mirror the work P33 is doing with companies like M1 Finance, G2, and PwC to bring their young professionals into freshman classes at UIC and Illinois Tech, to provide in-classroom projects and exposure to tech professionals.
Second, widen your hiring aperture. Companies express an interest in building more diverse tech teams but remain stuck in the habit of actively recruiting from only a few colleges in the region—colleges that are less diverse than the average. The growth of partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities we’ve seen over the last 18 months is great, but also add more diverse Illinois institutions to your campus outreach.
Last, look at your numbers. Our survey revealed that a large minority of executives lacked access to detailed diversity and inclusion data, but that those who did have access to the data felt it was critical to the progress they have made with diversity and inclusion initiatives. Ask if somebody has the data already and can share it or start the process of pulling it together for internal use. It will enable focus and will help mobilizes internal partners.
Opportunity is cumulative, and so is the opportunity gap.
If our Chicago tech and business community’s response is unequal to the challenge, tech’s growth will exacerbate Chicago’s undeniable economic and social fissures. There’s a different path, one that builds Chicago into the country’s most inclusive tech city. That’s what P33 and the Chicago Tech Talent Coalition are working on. What actions will you take?
Matthew Muench is senior vice president for talent solutions at P33, a civic organization that aims to boost Chicago’s tech sector.
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