“This is what the city of Chicago looks like.” It’s a phrase uttered frequently at 1871 by COO Tom Alexander, but at our 1871 For All discussion on diversity and inclusion in tech during TechWeek, the venue and timing were extremely appropriate.
In addition to Alexander, who moderated the frank discussion that centered around diversity and inclusion for everyone in tech — regardless of gender, race, age, creed, sexual orientation, ability or socioeconomic background — panelists included:
- Kristen Sonday, founder of Paladin, 1871/CODE2040 Entrepreneur in Residence and member of the inaugural 1871/IHCC Latinx accelerator program
- Andre Johnson, founder of LiveEquipd, a company he founded during Campus 1871
- Marquell Smith, an entrepreneur working out of military veteran incubator Bunker Labs
- Heather Roberts Senior Director of Global Licensing & Software at HARMAN International and board member of StartOut, a non-profit supporting LGBTQ entrepreneurs
- Jessica Williams, 1871 WiSTEM program co-facilitator.
Among the topics covered during the panel was tackling the gender and wage gap in tech. While many large corporations have made strides to address the wage gap — 29 including Microsoft, IBM and Apple signed a pledge last year promising to close the pay gap — panelist Roberts said she is often skeptical of internal numbers released by corporations.
“As an engineer and someone who is familiar with numbers, I’m not a big fan of the statistics the companies put out,” she said. “I think a lot of times they’re self-serving, and a lot of times you can slice any set of numbers a million ways. On the plus side for the companies, it can be very difficult to compare apples to apples among different groups.”
Alexander emphasized companies should continue to strive to equalize the pay gap in their organizations. Last July, the White House hosted a “Hack the Pay Gap” challenge, where seven apps were released after a two-month hack-a-thon that address wage issues. Among them: Close the Wage Gap, the Gender Gap app and Aequitas.
The panel also explored sometimes overlooked areas of inclusion when discussing diversity in tech. A point made by Smith was asking the audience to consider paying their interns, and to consider who they ignore for an opportunity when they don’t. The discussion also touched on creating a welcoming environment for older entrepreneurs, as well as those with disabilities.
“Just from experience over time in Chicago, I have seen the change, the evolution, of making places accessible and opportunities accessible,” Johnson, whose company helps those with disabilities connect with providers of assistive medical equipment, said. Johnson noted efforts need to continue, especially when it comes to helping those with disabilities find full-time employment. He also acknowledged 1871’s own efforts toward greater accessibility, including the recent installation of a wheelchair ramp for its auditorium stage.
Issued faced by immigrant entrepreneurs was also tackled during the panel. Sonday, whose company helps lawyers connect with pro-bono cases, has seen an uptick in inquiries after several recent executive orders on immigration, talked about the “silver lining” created by the uncertainty in the law.
“It’s really highlighted the value of legal pro-bono work and supporting our communities,” she said. “After the immigration ban, we had a number of individuals reach out to us that had never done pro-bono work before but really wanted to get involved and support their calling.”
The 1871 For All event also included food from Delightful Pastries — a member of our minority and women-owned vendor program — and demo tables from WiSTEM, Women Tech Founders, 50 Action 50, YWCA, IHCC, Code Latino, Chicago Black Women in Tech, StartOut and BunkerLabs.
Check out more photos from our community below: