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How to Develop a Diverse Pipeline

The city of Chicago is quickly cementing its reputation as a tech powerhouse in both the United States and throughout the world -- but like many other cities, there is still work to be done when it comes to building a diverse and inclusive workforce. In this post, guest author Linda Darragh, the Larry Levy Executive Director of the Kellogg Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, shares her insights on how we can collectively create, support, and foster a pipeline of diverse and inclusive talent. 

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Guest Author: Linda Darragh, Professor, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University

Chicago has come a long way in becoming a leading tech hub.  Now, our community must meet another challenge: building a pipeline of diverse and inclusive talent for the future.

There are some commendable changes happening at the MBA level. After years, of women representing only a third of students at MBA schools, women students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management will account for 46 percent this year. Many of these women are coming out of the tech sector to start their own tech-enabled firms.

While this is an important step, we need to recognize that the pipeline starts earlier. The more children from diverse ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds who are exposed to technology and entrepreneurship, the more our talent pipeline will grow for the future.

I spoke with a woman recently who started her career years ago in what was then called “IT services.” Her entrée to the field was a computer science class she was required to take in college as part of her major. To her surprise, she fell in love with computer science and pursued it with passion. Before taking that class, though, she never saw technology as part of her future; but that initial exposure changed her life. It’s easy to imagine the same thing happening among primary, secondary, and post-secondary students as they experience technology first-hand.  

Strides are already being taken in this direction. The City of Chicago has made coding a part of the high school curriculum. Startups and nonprofits are taking the mission a step further to reach youth in neighborhoods across the city and surrounding areas. Future Founders, another 1871 Momentum winner, offers age- and stage-appropriate entrepreneurship programs for youth, from elementary school through college, connecting them with mentors and helping them build skills. Its focus is to help youth create employment opportunities for themselves, putting them in charge of their own future. For younger children, startups such as Codeverse teaches the basics of coding and programming.

Education, of course, is key. But so is interaction with entrepreneurs who are willing to share the stories of their own journeys. In this way, each of us can be a key part of pipeline development, by helping others see what is possible for them.

There are many ways each of us can become involved. Nonprofits and other organizations need mentors, guest speakers, board members, and advisors. Such hands-on involvement “pays it forward” to create opportunities for others.

While we look to the future, we also need to be more cognizant of the statement we’re making about our present situation. Every startup, venture capital firm, and advisory board should look at who’s at the table. Who is involved in making funding decisions? Who is on the panel at industry events? Unless we are more diverse and inclusive, we will further the perception that the tech sector and startups are insular. It’s well known that venture capital has been heavily male dominated and only 2% of venture capital dollars last year went toward women-founded startups.

If we want to make our community diverse, if we want to explore new ideas and serve underrepresented consumers, we need to be more deliberate in how we represent ourselves. Then, with awareness and intention, Chicago can really stand out for not only having a vibrant startup community, but one that is diverse and inclusive.

The opinions expressed here by 1871 guest writers are their own, not those of 1871.

Topics: Insights

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