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I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

When my stint at MPICT ended with the grant’s closure the summer of 2015, I continued working in community college career education as a consultant with the Career Ladders Project and devoted more time to my research on creating inclusive spaces and cultures. In 2015, inclusion was added to diversity because people were finally figuring out that we’ve had plenty of diversity for a long time, yet not much was changing relative to the retention and success of women, black, and latinx students and professionals.

Hired, the AI-driven job search marketplace, was a startup at the time. The values integral to its business model appear to have been translated into algorithms. As a startup, Hired provided its job searchers with an advocate, who reached out to employers on their behalf, and a unique type of career coach, who helped them with the deeper dive into desires and potential. Hired leadership knew that its platform had an impact on D&I in the industry and it began within; that it practices must be fair and unbiased. My friend and WSWI collaborator, Kirsti Tcherkoyan, connected me with Hired’s D&I program to develop leadership training on how to recognize and counter implicit bias.

Unfortunately, it went nowhere. The training was designed to initiate the integration of ongoing, small-group dialogue about bias, how it shows up, and personal responsibilities. To influence change, such conversations must be facilitated by the organization’s leaders who must first learn how to create a safe space. That kind of work takes time and courage many organizational leaders are not willing and able to commit. And while the training was abandoned by Hired, that disappointment just further confirmed, for me, why the inclusion needle wasn’t moving; the same issue of lack of investment and commitment to do the work. I also walked away with some very valuable research and content on EQ strategies for managing unconscious bias. Thank you, Kirsti!

I stay in gratitude for the people and relationships in my life, personal and professional, the inner circles and the broad social media networks. The MPICT relationship brought me back to the Winter 2016 ICT Educators Conference, an event MPICT produced 2011-2015 and handed off to WASTC for 2016. I took the opportunity to publicly thank the rest of the MPICT team for their support of the development of this work I intended to expand upon. A public pronouncement! I committed myself; it was my springboard.

A few months later, a colleague at Career Ladders, Sherry Suisman, knowing my interests and passions, introduced me to someone she said, “you have to meet!” She was right. Sonya Brunswick had me in awe the first few minutes of our initial conversation. I knew I wanted to work with this powerful, visionary leader. Her passion for seeing more young, black youth gain access to tech careers dwarfed my own. True leaders draw you in that way.

Sherry introduced us because Sonya was project director for an initiative to train and place opportunity youth into IT support apprenticeships. Culturally sensitive, wrap-around support for the participants was a key component of the program. We agreed that I design the training for the apprentice supervisors and “corporate companions”. The latter was an interesting new role Sonya envisioned as a confidant and mentor/coach for young, black kids in the strange new land of corporate America. She assumed the corporate companions would be white or Asian, the dominant ethnicities in tech, so the program included connections to black professionals as mentors in the formal sense.

The program, funded by Sig Anderman, founder and former CEO of Ellie Mae, was called the Springboard Initiative. It was a complex partnership of employers, community-based organizations, technical assistance providers, community colleges, and consultants such as me to deliver a fully supported, 8-month training program leading to paid apprenticeships in a variety of tech roles. Lots of “moving parts” as we used to say in my system integration days. It was also my first exposure to the reality that systemic issues, such as lack of D&I, must have systemic solutions. My experience with the Springboard Initiative brought new perspective and confirmed old ones.

Most important, you can’t have D&I without equity. Equity is simply doing more for those who need it most. SI provided culturally sensitive wrap-around support for its trainees and apprentices: stipends during training, leadership & essential skills training, case management, mentors, and college credit. I witnessed the positive influence a mentor who looked like you can have. I also saw examples where even those mentors had difficulty connecting with their mentees and in those situations, case management revealed the true barriers.

When the assumption about the demographics of Corporate Companions proved wrong, the evenly matched cohort of black, white, and female managers confirmed that we all, no matter our ethnicity, gender, background, or age, have much we can learn about cultural humility and unconscious bias. Every participant found the training, spread out over the same 8-weeks that the apprentices were being training, deeply insightful and revealing. Something extra came out of the training – what I had hoped for the Hired training. These managers felt ready to hold space for meaningful dialog with their diverse proteges. They were prepared to be empathetic and curious leaders.

The Springboard Initiative was my personal springboard into the next phase of my life work. Our life work is a journey of braiding those joyful elements of our learning, experience, and wisdom into all that we do, which is especially fulfilling when what we do is in service to others in some way. Thirty years in tech, 15 in leadership and organizational development, 19 years as an educator, I’m now in a space where I can bring a systemic perspective to what it takes to prepare and include more women, black, and latinx talent to endure and succeed in tech careers. To use an Oprah idiom, “what I know for sure” is that It comes down to EQ and the acceptance of accountability.