Conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion are happening everywhere — on social media, in our communities and in our businesses. These are important discussions to have, especially in Arizona, where there’s a clear lack of diversity in the tech ecosystem here.
Thankfully, companies and people around the Valley are working to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce.
A few months ago, Per Scholas, which provides skills training and access to employer networks to those often excluded from tech careers, expanded into Phoenix. While it is relatively new to the city, the nonprofit is no stranger to training and moving women and people of color into thriving-wage jobs.
Per Scholas began in 1995 in the Bronx, teaching people how to refurbish computer equipment to give to low-income residents and schools. The workers were trained so well that companies would come in and quickly hire them. This taught Per Scholas that maybe its strength isn’t the refurbishing — it’s the training.
So the company pivoted and has used a training model that studies have proved works.
Jaclyn Boyes, the managing director of Per Scholas Phoenix, told AZ Tech Beat that the focus of this training program is the equity of opportunity to pursue a career in tech.
“There’s a lot of overlooked talent here — Black, brown, female talent in particular — who are unemployed or underemployed, and they can have a successful career in tech,” Boyes said. “We provide [a free] rigorous tech training that can really prepare them to get a job that can serve as an on-ramp to the middle class.”
Per Scholas partnered with TEKsystems in its move to the Valley, which helped launch a full stack Java development course in May.
Learners participate in a 15-week training, completing full days of training four days a week, with skill development on Fridays. Per Scholas teaches skills in areas like interviewing, resume development and budgeting, and even makes social workers accessible to learners for support.
Learners aren’t bound to any contract to work at a certain tech company at the end of their training. However, if they’d like to pursue a career in tech, Per Scholas builds connections with local companies to facilitate hiring.
Right now, TEKsystems will hire the majority of the first 20 learners in Phoenix. Other employers are encouraged to partner or volunteer with Per Scholas to help create a diverse pipeline of talent in Arizona.
Currently, half of the learners at Per Scholas Phoenix are people of color, and about a fifth are women. Per Scholas is actively recruiting for fall for a tech support associate course and an end user desktop support course.
Boyes said the job demand in Phoenix is becoming more centered around tech support, user desktop support and Java developers. As a result, the company will continue to add courses in 2022.
Why diversify your company now?
Some companies have done an excellent job at prioritizing diversity since the jump. Others may understand the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion and want to illustrate that within their company, but don’t know how.
The first thing Boyes mentioned was a stat from McKinsey: companies that are racially and ethnically diverse financially outperform those who aren’t by 36%, and companies that are gender diverse outperform those who aren’t by 25%.
From a business perspective, diversity can equal the greater success of your company.
Kate Rogers Sieker, the community leader responsible for Startup Week and #yesphx, credits leaders for considering diversity.
“The beauty of being thoughtful about the experiences that you’re bringing to the table, whether that’s race or religion or sexuality or experience, is something that you’ve probably always thought about,” Sieker said. “I’m sure that, in the past, you — leader, founder — have said, ‘hey, it would be really beneficial if we had somebody with this experience.’”
Sieker continues to paint the picture of leaders subconsciously considering diversity. Many times it comes about when considering someone’s past role, but every time diversity is considered, you are strengthening your exposure to the world.
“If you just have one type of person with one type of experience, you’ll get one type of answer, you’ll get one type of creativity,” Sieker said. “It’s really creating a spectrum of opportunity for you and I look at it as very much of a competitive advantage.”
Sieker acknowledged that people can get hooked up on the fear of branching out into diversity because their team might look different. Leaders most likely will have to think through sensitivities they aren’t experienced with, but Sieker said being open and honest about trying something new and asking for help will benefit you.
“If you screw up, you just ask for forgiveness and you learn from it,” Sieker said. “That vulnerability, the permission to be approachable about that vulnerability is really all you have to do.”
An important distinction to mention is the difference between diversity and inclusion and affirmative action.
“Diversity and inclusion is saying I value holistically the people that I’m surrounding myself with, the people that I’m building my company with, and I value the differences that they bring to the table. I value it so much that I’m going to actively seek out these differences,” Sieker said.
“Affirmative action is I need to look a certain way, I need to check a certain amount of boxes, so I’m going to go check boxes. I think if you feel pressured to hire somebody that looks a [certain] way, or has a certain amount of sexuality, so that you can brag about it, [puts you] down a dangerous road,” Sieker continued.
Sieker is currently rebranding Thrive PHX to be an accessible diversity, inclusion and talent platform for the entrepreneurial ecosystem here.
“It’s a platform that we can all learn from each other,” Sieker said. “We will have quarterly events where we’ll have a representative from a diverse population come and teach us about their experience and how to be better.”
Sieker is hoping to kick this new venture off in the fall.
“I’m really excited about it. I think there’s natural diversity in our ecosystem that has not had a place to come together,” Sieker said. “I’m so excited to bring this to our community so that it’s proof positive that it exists and is alive and well and thriving. And we can all celebrate that together.”
Per Scholas recognizes that a clear diverse talent pipeline hasn’t existed here, and wants local companies to partner with them, visit a class, and look at the courses.
“We aren’t asking people to hire our students just because they are diverse,” Boyes said. “These are highly trained, technical people who also happen to be diverse, and that can help your business.”
The training is free and rigorous tech training and professional development meant to prepare underrepresented groups for high tech careers.
“These are really the jobs of today, the jobs that can change the course of a person’s life and their children’s life,” Boyes said. “What we’re working on is really economic justice here.”
Any businesses can connect with Per Scholas and its learners on perscholas.org/phoenix.
“I would like to see Arizona be in the news as one of the states that’s not just leading in tech, but is also leading in diversity in tech,” Boyes said. “And now that Per Scholas is here in Phoenix, I see a real pathway to being able to make that happen.”