Celebrating Bold Initiatives Towards Diversity in Tech
On the evening of May 22nd 2018, at the Bowery Hotel in NYC, I was privileged to attend the Diversity in Tech Awards for the second year! The mission of the evening was to bring people within the tech industry together to invest their “time, talent and treasures” in order to help decrease the diversity gap in STEM by empowering students to create with technology. It was a night focused on honoring teachers and students that are making a name for themselves within the industry as well as pushing forward the initiative to provide more opportunities for STEM programming in schools. All proceeds benefited the nonprofit Mouse, a national youth development nonprofit that empowers youth to create technology with purpose, and Code Interactive, a nonprofit that trains educators and builds inclusive computer science programs.
To kick off the evening, most people indulged in the open bar and lite bites, before the panel discussion kicked off promptly at 6pm. The panel entitled,”Building a Diverse Tech Talent Pipeline,” had an impressive list of panelists focused on discussing the need for more diverse talent in the work force and how to keep STEM programs active in schools. The panelists consisted of Mark Anthony Thomas, Senior Vice President, Partnerships at New York City Economic Development Corporation, Ryan Dennin, Senior Director Retail of Best Buy, Kelli Dragovich, SVP People Operations/HR at Hired, Inc., Omari Edwards, Founder of Beak, Rick Gomez, Vice President, Human Resources and Advertising & Analytics at AT&T, and Lisa Opoku, Chief Operating Officer, Goldman Sachs Technology Division.
With so many people of influence in the room, I’m always curious to know what the word Bold means to such bold individuals. When asked what Bold means, Omari Edwards states, “The hardest thing to be, especially as an African American person, is 100% authentic — especially as it relates to corporate America and career building. We tend to have to put on a mask here or there. However, it takes a lot of BOLDNESS to be able to be fully authentic.”
Omari has created Beak, which is a SaaS platform that helps companies track consumer interactions of the content they share online, including emails, links, web posts, and files. He created his company with the belief that he has gotten over most his insecurities by realizing that we are all unique. He states “what makes us most unique is our super power, and because of this power, I can as BOLD and authentic than I have ever been, which leads to my professional success.” This statement holds true for all the panelists and honorees of the evening, especially the youth.
After an amazing panel discussion, a brief break commenced where everyone enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and mingled before the honorees received their awards for the evening, and there were several! The Board Honorees were Amy Kadomatsu, Co-founder and President of Instabot, an enterprise chatbot platform, and co-founder of ROKO Labs, a product strategy and technology consultancy. To Amy, the word Bold means to “think outside of the box, breaking the boundaries, and sometimes breaking the rules.” In her words, as an Asian short woman, she mentions that “being bold surprises and amazes people while allowing us to show people what we can do.” People assume things just by looking at her, not realizing that she is a Bold woman who has decided to “do something” by implementing change within the tech industry. Kirk McDonald, who co-hosted the Awards last year, was also an honoree. He is the Chief Marketing Officer at the AT&T Advertising and Analytics company, and also the Board Director of the I.D.E.A. Initiative, an organization dedicated to being the voice and the destination for addressing inclusion, diversity, equality and awareness in business. It was a pleasure to see him nominated this year with his peers.
The Educator Honorees were Edwin Jaquez of KIPP Washington Heights Middle School, Kristi Jones of the High School of Hospitality and Management, and Donald Saint-Germain of WINGS Academy High School. When asked what Bold means to him, Donald, who is of Haitian descent like myself, states that it means to “take risks and to not be afraid to stand out amongst your peers.” He thinks about the word Bold often and when he does it always pertains to his students as he empowers them to think about how they too can stand out and be unique.
One of the Youth Honorees were Kimari Rennis of DreamYard Prep who says that being
bold means “being able to stand up for yourself and to have bravery in order to take on opportunities that are in your path.” Kimari, a 15 year old African American girl, considers herself to be an introvert. With claiming that, she has taken on the word bold by making it work in her favor and exposing herself to the tech community. She puts herself in a position to be exposed to new ideas and technology, and by doing so, she believes “that is what has gotten me here and honored with a Diversity in Tech Award tonight.” Kamari aspires to be a video game designer. The next honoree, Khaleel Anderson of Queens College, states that he cares about people and uses technology to help people that are “differently able.” To him, bold means to be “strong, going out on the limb, standing out, and being highlighted, while taking whats in your grasp and elevating it to new levels.” He is truly an advocate of change that shares a similar theme with me of just being in a position to help others; technology has allowed him to do that to the best of his ability.
Peizhu Yuan, who is the ultimate Mouse alum, was being honored as well. She was in the Mouse after school program her sophomore year in high school, a mouse intern during college, and now she is a Communication Coordinator for Mouse. To Peizhu, bold means “to be very straightforward with no camouflage, and represents a person who is very grounded.” She has definitely been grounded in the Mouse program that has allowed her to excel professionally.
Last but not least, Ivan Pereda- Zorrilla, a Software Engineer at Bloomberg was also a youth honoree that has benefited from being a part of the Mouse program since he was in middle school. To Ivan, being bold means, “going for the unexpected and being unconventional without any fear of consequences.” He also thinks that being bold allows you to do more of what is asked of yourself without any guidance and to just be yourself while implementing change and helping others to understand why these social impacts are taking place.” He believes that being bold is exciting, and I would too with all the audacious moves he has made in his life by taking advantage of the Mouse program, which resulted in him working for one of the top business organizations, Bloomberg. Way to go, Ivan!
It goes without saying that the youth honorees were the highlight of the evening, and are the direct results of success of the Mouse program! Hence the push to increase funding for their initiatives. Mouse positively impacts the youth interested in the tech industry, and each story shared was a testament of success. I left the evening feeling educated and overall, empowered by all the Bold individuals in the room, who are all amazing advocates of change for Diversity in the Tech Industry.
Photos provided by Mouse