In tech, it’s no secret there are far more jobs than qualified individuals to fill them. It’s also no secret that tech is not the most diverse industry in the world -- it skews far more male and has far fewer people of color than the population as a whole. The good news: we can take a large step towards a solution for both of these problems by working together to foster a new generation of talent from an array of different genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds. I believe that Chicago companies, leaders, and tech professionals have a responsibility to help fix this, and one way we can make an impact is by supporting nonprofit organizations devoted to this mission.
One of these organizations is i.c. stars -- a group I’ve been proud to support for over five years. A beneficiary of Chicago Tech Rocks, since 1999, i.c.stars has been identifying, training, and jump-starting technology careers for Chicago-area low-income young adults who, although lacking access to education and employment, demonstrate the extraordinary potential for success in the business world and for making an impact in their communities. Using project-based learning and full immersion teaching, i.c. stars provides an opportunity for change-driven, future leaders to develop skills in business and technology. The program works. i.c. stars graduates have a 90% initial job placement rate, an 81% retention rate, and increase their average 12-month earnings from $10,790 before the program to $44,010 after the program.
As a “serial CTO” of digital companies in Chicago, I’ve seen firsthand the value of a diverse tech team. Building a team made up of individuals with diverse experiences and perspectives makes the team better and leads to better, more innovative solutions. It’s also the right thing to do. And organizations like i.c. stars are truly making a difference that not only improves the lives of its participants but contributes to building a healthy and diverse tech ecosystem. So when I was asked to get involved in i.c. stars, I was ready to dive in as a mentor, teacher, and general supporter.
As technology leaders, we need do our part to change this industry for the better. That’s a start. And we can have an even greater impact by empowering our people to do the same. At Enova, members of our tech team started the Chicago Women in Technology Conference, which sold out a month in advance of the conference in its second year. We have team members who have founded the Chicago chapter of Chick Tech, co-founded Latinx Code, and are mentoring students through the Living Works and iMentor programs. It’s a collective effort. As the saying goes, if you want to go far, you go together.
There is more work to do, but we start by committing our time, talent and treasure. We “walk the talk” of diversity in our organizations, our industry, and our community. That’s why Enova is supporting Chicago Tech Rocks and the organizations that benefit from this event. The concert is a fun way to bring awareness to the impactful work organizations like i.c. stars are doing to build the next, more diverse generation of tech talent. Nothing gets people moving together like music, and I can’t wait to “rock out” for a great cause with the Chicago tech community tonight.