Posted on 06-29-2021
by: Kenneth WalkerPer Scholas
about:blankThe recent guilty verdict in the George Floyd murder case has signified a profound shift in how we view and address racial justice in this country. After a year that’s put racism in the national spotlight, companies have stepped up in a big way to show their support: Wall Street banks like JPMorgan Chase have announced programs worth billions to support Black communities; Big Tech companies like Microsoft have committed millions to meaningful diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs; significant sports organizations like the NBA, NFL, and MLB have doubled down on investments and decorated their arenas and uniforms with the words “Black Lives Matter”; and just this week, corporate statements, social media posts, and open letters to employees have poured out from companies and top business leaders with reactions to the Derek Chauvin verdict, many of which voiced new commitments and pledges to help advance racial equity.
That said, it’s clear that we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to the work that requires intentional action. Businesses and philanthropies across the country have opened up their wallets this year to help bankroll racial justice programs, resulting in unexpected change for workers, families, and communities all over the country. However, they also can transform the lives of millions more by turning their words into action in a few meaningful ways.
One of the most significant ways we can tackle racial inequality in corporate America is by committing to hiring diverse talent from nontraditional pathways. The real impact in workforce training programs isn’t just the training students receive – it’s the hiring partnerships and professional networks that alumni can tap into after graduation. Many of these programs are designed for traditionally underrepresented groups in today’s emerging fields – people of color, women, and young adults who ended their formal education after high school.
By the end of their training, these individuals are armed with the skills they need to succeed in today’s workplace, even if they haven’t followed a traditional college pathway. Suppose more companies were to start placing a higher value on the merits of hiring from programs like Per Scholas, Year Up, and NPower. In that case, they’ll be able to build more diverse talent pipelines, increase retention rates, and find the talent they need, all while helping the people who need it most.
Another meaningful way companies can tackle systemic racism is by addressing their own internal biases in hiring and promotions. We know that diverse individuals are challenging to recruit for in fields like technology frequently because they don’t meet the initial criteria outlined in job descriptions. Artificial barriers – such as college degrees or years of industry-related experience – are deeply embedded in many corporations. They often discourage underrepresented groups from applying for jobs they might otherwise be qualified to fill. By being more thoughtful in the hiring and talent acquisition process, companies can play a more prominent role in helping BIPOC workers get ahead by tapping into their unique skill sets and backgrounds.
Lastly, companies need to be building workplace cultures that encourage lifelong learning and advancement. Organizations should consider reskilling and upskilling for all of their talent, not just younger workers. As technology continues to transform the way we do business, talent needs are also changing every day. Business leaders need to ensure they support existing staff – including BIPOC staff – in learning the skills they need to remain competitive.
My nonprofit – which provides tuition-free technology training to workers underrepresented in the tech sector – has been in a very fortunate position this year, sitting at the receiving end of incredible donations. Grants from Lever for Change, Comcast NBCUniversal, Prudential Financial, and so many more have enabled us to expand our training remotely in the wake of a global pandemic and meet growing demands for our workforce training programs. We are also working with these organizations to turn their monetary commitments into meaningful partnerships that address the issues above.
A success story of the power of true partnership is our work with TEKsystems, a global full-stack technology and talent services provider. This customized training partnership showcases when organizations, with shared values and aligned expertise, come together the benefits for BIPOC workers can be transformational.
Looking ahead, we must encourage and enable more companies to turn their commitments into action in this same way. Covid-related job losses and layoffs have had the hardest hit on Black and brown communities. Many are looking for ways to future-proof their careers and build more stable financial opportunities. We can help BIPOC workers achieve a better and more thriving life by partnering with organizations like Per Scholas and taking a more innovative approach to hiring that will result in more diversity in tech. It means breaking old habits and being courageous in trying new models for training and hiring. It needs to be a top priority in how we operate going forward in order to make meaningful changes to diversity in the tech industry.