Inclusive Innovation at the 20th Annual Summit Against Racism

Creating Pipelines for Youth in the New Pittsburgh Tech Economy

Annia Aleman
Feb 2, 2018 · 6 min read
Panel discussion at the Summit Against Racism 2018

The Summit Against Racism creates opportunities for attendees to learn, connect, and act on behalf of racial justice. This year marked the 20th Annual Summit Against Racism gathering in Pittsburgh. The Summit is a flagship event for all Pittsburgh organizers who are working towards healing trauma, building community, and inspiring actions.

At the Summit, the Inclusive Innovation team had the opportunity to host a panel of experts and highlight the organizations who are addressing educational gaps and exposing youth to the jobs of tomorrow. Our panel was titled “Creating Pipelines for Youth in Pittsburgh’s New Tech Economy” and featured speakers from all over the city such as Ariel Hermitt (All Star Code), Jerome (All Star Code), Olivia Kissel (Startable Pittsburgh), Ani Martinez (Remake Learning), Kenny Chen (Ascender), and Marcus Jeter (Resus Technologies).

Defining the problems.

As Pittsburgh becomes an Innovation Hub with ground breaking research and technology resources, it is crucial to create pipelines for local youth to partake in the workforce of tomorrow. Many of our young population do not have the digital resources or computer science programs to prepare them for the technical careers of the future. Instead, local technology companies and startups hire newcomers from outside the region rather than cultivating talent within. Without role-models who look like them, without pathways to success, without the investment of the higher education institutions, how can local youth compete? Through this session, we hoped to highlight the lack of diversity in Pittsburgh’s tech scene and foster a more diverse generation of future leaders in the technology and entrepreneurial fields.

The tech sector is the source of an increasing number of jobs in the United States. Ensuring a sufficient supply of workers that qualify for these tech jobs will be crucial at the local and national level. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report, Black and Hispanic or Latinx workers make up 14.4% and 13.9% of the private workforce overall, respectively. In the tech sector as a whole, they are 7.4% and 8% of employees. Women are also underrepresented, making up just 36% of tech employees compared to 48% of all workers. These numbers are not any different in the Pittsburgh region. Marcus of Resus Technologies and Kenny from Ascender have both been involved in Pittsburgh’s tech industry and reiterated their observations of the lack of diversity.

Vibrant Pittsburgh’s Pittsburgh Regional Diversity Survey states that in the region’s workforce, African Americans are the largest single racial and ethnic minority group, making up 8.2 percent of the general population in southwestern Pennsylvania. They also have the deepest roots and a long history of struggling to claim their share of jobs, particularly those that offer careers with opportunities to advance their position and income. They are, for example, the only minority workers with average incomes lower than their white coworkers in every industry.

During the past five years, the city has experienced a rise in programs that are working on addressing the lack of diversity in not just the tech sector but all industries.

What the panelists had to say.

At the Summit, panelists discussed the effect of the fast-changing Pittsburgh tech scene on youth and some ways that youth of color can start getting exposed to programs in tech and STEM education. For example, local organizations such as Startable Pittsburgh, All Star Code, and Remake Learning, are exposing youth to skills and careers in which they can dream of creating and building something for themselves — engaging in an entrepreneurial mindset.

One organization that is a one-stop hub for educational resource for the community, educators, and youth is Remake Learning. The Remake Learning Network ignites engaging, relevant, and equitable learning practices in support of young people navigating with rapid social and technological change. The network currently collaborates with 246 organizations to encourage the introduction of technology into classrooms. The My Brother’s Keeper Initiative is another network helping young boys and men of color engage in after-school educational activities and connecting them to different educational and professional resources.

Panelists also highlighted the disconnect that can happen between local universities and local community organizations. It was recommended that moving forward, mutual awareness from the community and the universities about the different opportunities being offered for Pittsburgh youth would be a step towards a more equitable future.

Jerome, an alum from All Star Code, suggested that bringing more youth to events where they can find mentors and role-models will be a step towards getting more youth inspired. He also suggested that organizations should think about how to make entrepreneurship and technology fun for kids. One central message discussed during the panel was the need to bring more people to the table including universities, funders, and policy makers so that Pittsburgh can continue developing and creating opportunities for all.

How can Pittsburgh move forward together?

Several organizations that were not present at the panel are also working to address these very problems. Last week, Black Tech Nation, was launched by Kelauni Cook with the support of Carnegie Mellon University. The organization plans to fund and facilitate actual research on how many black people are working in the tech industry in Pittsburgh in order to move towards targeted solutions and create a community of black ‘techies’. Along with this network, the number of mentors and role-models for minority youth interested in technology and entrepreneurship will also increase. Beta Builders, from Academy PGH, is another program that teaches students from Pittsburgh Public Schools how to code and write software. The curriculum is taught by young software engineers and local certified teachers. They are currently conducting classes at Brashear High School as an after school-program for kids to learn how to code.

These organizations, along with the representatives at the panel, are working to create pipelines into the tech economy for local youth and people of color. However, we need everyone working together to make this a reality. We need universities, public and charter school educators, corporations, non-profits, government, and others to make youth a priority. Pittsburgh’s growing tech scene should be an asset for our community and create more opportunities for children and young adults across the city to explore new careers and skills.

We asked the audience at the Summit and now we are asking you.

How do YOU plan on being involved?

For more information about this workshop, contact the event organizers, Sanjana Dayananda and Annia Aleman from the City of Pittsburgh’s Inclusive Innovation team. If you would like to see this conversation move forward, think about creating an event around this topic for Inclusive Innovation Week 2018. The event week will be full of conversations and events focused on moving Pittsburgh forward in an equitable and inclusive way! Explore the website for more information.

Left to Right: Annia Aleman (City of Pittsburgh), Ariel Hermitt (All Star Code), Olivia Kissel (Startable), Kenny Chen (Ascender), Jerome (All Star Code), Ani Martinez (Remake Learning), and Marcus Jeter (Resus Technologies)

For more events like this, keep an eye out for Inclusive Innovation Week 2018. It is an event week and platform spearheaded by the City of Pittsburgh and URA to amplify opportunity for all and encourage cross-sector collaboration. Keep up to date with our calendar for more information.

Department of Innovation & Performance

The Department of Innovation & Performance is building a 21st-century government for the City of Pittsburgh and its residents.

Annia Aleman

Written by

Nicaraguan-American. Innovation Director @Ascenderpgh , former Sr. Civic Innovation @CityPGH . @pittsburgh_cm enthusiast.

Department of Innovation & Performance

The Department of Innovation & Performance is building a 21st-century government for the City of Pittsburgh and its residents.

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