America is experiencing necessary growing pains. Government, nonprofits and technology are at the center of this healing process. Nonprofits are an integral entry point for many people in need of education, social services, or guidance. Government is a primary source for both funding and direction, while technology is enabling unprecedented increases of efficiency and decreases in cost. The question now becomes, as society evolves, will we perpetuate historical inequities?

Here in Minnesota, one tech industry leader, Nancy Lyons, has bravely taken a step forward to initiate, and provide space for, this conversation. After thedatabank, gbc took the MN Tech Diversity pledge, a few of us attended the inaugural event held at Clockwork. It was an excellent start to an ambitious, and necessary, project. The MN Tech Diversity Pledge is a conversation aimed at bridging the employment gap experienced by marginalized communities. Representatives from the Penumbra Theater provided an excellent context from which to begin, followed by more applicable information presented by The BrandLab about all the different facets employees bring to a company’s culture.

Connecting with each other

One specific exercise asked participants to pick a partner and then look into their eyes for a full sixty seconds. For the first fifty-five seconds, the discomfort was palpable. Afterwards, though, the group was better able to open up with each other as a whole. The sense of urgency became a catalyst for accommodating the confusion inherent to the conversations we were engaging. Read more about eye contact experiments on the BBC website.

The last exercise of the session was to form groups and discuss our experiences in an attempt to identify solutions. Needless to say, few solutions were found; we had only spent a little less than two hours being inundated with an immense density of information. Though many were able to identify key barriers to achieving the goals we’d set for ourselves.

New leadership responsibilities

One of the barriers our group identified regarded leadership, and the need for leadership to be completely in support of curating a culture welcoming of diversity. Engaging diversity in a meaningful way will cause conflict. And not always will this conflict be apparent on the surface. When this conflict does bubble to the surface, it is paramount that leadership be able to create a safe space for communication to shape a path to sustainable resolution. Otherwise, further disruption will be inevitable.

This means leaders must be aware of how power dynamics affect conversations. And as society evolves, as marginalized demographics enter both the workforce and target markets in greater numbers, these issues will play ever greater roles in all aspects of production. Moreover culturally, this will incrementally affect all workers, as a growing trend is for companies to encourage employees to be able to bring “their whole self” to work. When we can invest our whole selves in our work, we are more productive, and this affects bottom lines for the better.

A diverse technology sector requires work

As for my own employment experience, I recently joined the team at thedatabank, gbc. Here we have an onboarding role called R2D2 (our office is littered with Star Wars references and figurines). My job duties are overseen directly by a member of the leadership team to whom I report. If I have questions that fall outside of these direct responsibilities, I am able to turn to my R2D2, a colleague from another department. This sets the tone for an overall atmosphere of accessibility and trust.

What this comes down to is leadership having a plan and implementing that plan before conflicts erupt. Leadership must plan for time and space to nurture difficult conversations with the knowledge that our companies, organizations, and communities will be better for the investment. This requires foresight, and fortitude, as cultural changes will need to be accounted for, mostly on the company’s side, if such growth is to provide the long-term benefits we know are possible.

MN Technology Diversity Pledgees will gather again in a few months’ time. I personally am incredibly excited to see how the conversation continues! Pictures from the last event were recently posted, and accurately reflect the experiences gained. There were challenging conversations, boisterous laughter, and moments of needed reflection for all. That these experiences are to happen with consistency is the keystone to building the bridge to the better tomorrow we all know is possible. Thanks Nancy! And thank you to everyone that participated.

‘Til next time,

Canin Apriori
Data Specialist for Special Projects
thedatabank, gbc

  • Scott November 17, 2016, 11:34 pm

    Well done! Great write up on our experience!