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The technology industry needs to seek out black talent, or create pipelines for young people from minority backgrounds to be given tech opportunities, says Antoinette Raines, LMS administrator, global field enablement at Splunk.
Speaking at Splunk.conf 2018 in Florida, Raines explained how the firm is trying to engage with young black people, and announced the upcoming launch of a black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employee resource group within the company.
“I believe we in tech have a responsibility to get in contact with black talent and make sure we bring them in,” she said.
Raines pointed out that there will be an estimated one million unfilled tech jobs in the US alone by 2020. Many believe that the skills gap and the diversity divide in the technology industry could solve each other if given the opportunity.
“What are we going to do to change that number, and how are we going to get more black youth into science, technology, engineering and maths [Stem] careers?” she said.
“Something that Splunk is doing to help fill that one million is they have a huge drive to have more under-represented individuals, specifically Latinos, blacks, people from the pride community, so diversity and inclusion is huge to Splunk and it’s very important to me.”
Raines highlighted three ways the technology industry can do more to encourage more people from ethnic minorities into the industry – improve the hiring and inclusion of black talent, intentionally tap into, or create, pipelines for black talent, and make leadership aware of the benefits of cultural and regional skillsets.
As part of the Splunk4Good programme, the data firm allows veterans to gain Splunk accreditation and certification for free.
Access to Splunk certifications
This will now also be true of people from BAME backgrounds, as the firm will give free access to Splunk certifications and accreditations to young black individuals.
Raines explained: “One place that we don’t really have a pipeline is in the tech industry, usually because in the black community, they’re teased if they’re the ‘smart black kid’. Unfortunately, that happens.”
Splunk is working with a number of programmes that aim to encourage young black people into the tech industry, with the ultimate aim of following the path of these young people throughout their education, with the intention of eventually offering them a role at Splunk.
The firm is working with the Hidden Genius Project, Gameheads, Code2040 and Year Up, as well as high schools to make technology more accessible for young black people.
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Speaking about her time visiting the Hidden Genius Project, which teaches young black men skills such as HTML, CSS, Java, Python and web development, Raines said she was “amazed” by the students she met there.
“There is a waitlist, there are a lot of young men who are from low-income communities, from single-parent households, who are absolute geniuses,” she said.
Not only are they taught tech skills, but are also provided with mentorship and taught the concept of “entrepreneurship”, which is becoming increasingly important to find technology industry roles.
Both the Hidden Genius Project and Gameheads asked Splunk if it would be able to provide laptops for use in the programmes.
Raines explained: “When the students come, they come with whatever laptops they have, so they might not meet certification.”
Raines is working with Splunk4Good and Splunk’s IT division to provide laptops for participants of these initiatives to use.
Soft skills and technical skills
As for Year Up and Code2040, they work with BAME 18 to 24-year-olds to give them both the soft skills and technical skills to make them ready for a career in technology.
Code2040 works specifically with young black and Latino people to increase diversity in the industry.
Raines added: “There are a lot of available people that are linked up already with Code2040 that your recruiters can contact.”
It has been shown that when a company has more diverse teams, they are more innovative and efficient – it has been suggested having just one woman on a board can reduce the likelihood of bankruptcy by 20% – and Raines emphasised the importance of a diverse workforce.
“We can get this youth into our pipeline,” she said. “The biggest thing is that we are better when we are more diverse, when we are included.”
Shifting the dial internally
Within Splunk, Raines is responsible for the BAME network, which is due to go live in February 2019, after asking earlier this year how an initiative could be officially established to support minority employees.
“If you have been here any number of days, you’ll see there’s a sprinkling of us around – and that’s about it,” she said.
Currently, Splunk has about 85 black employees globally – less than 3% of them in the continental US.
Raines said: “They’re not proud of that number, so they’re partnering with us black employees to improve that number to try and get more black employees in.”
She also said it is important to ensure that leaders within an organisation is aware of diversity issues, and are making sure there are opportunities for under-represented staff in organisations to move up the career ladder.
“As a form of human equity, we want to intentionally tap into the black talent in our companies,” she said.
Open and inclusive workforce
Mentoring, professional development and retention through promotion are all ways that firms can create a more open and inclusive workforce, and encourage more black individuals into tech roles, said Raines.
“We are working with leadership to develop this pipeline, to make sure we have opportunities for mentoring and opportunities to get into the leadership programmes, so we can have opportunities to get into leadership positions,” she said.
Splunk is also working to create a pipeline for young black people through its summer internship programme.
Raines emphasised that employers need to “tap into the black talent pipelines or create them when we don’t have them”.