A coalition of Baltimore companies is working to build a more diverse tech workforce. Here's how they're starting - Technical.ly Baltimore

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A coalition of Baltimore companies is working to build a more diverse tech workforce. Here’s how they’re starting

Baltimore Tracks is launching with 20+ companies and five initiatives focused around hiring, from DEI audits to removing degree requirements from job postings.
A coalition of Baltimore tech companies are banding together with the goal of increasing opportunity for people of color in tech, and growing diversity and inclusion in the growing segment of the local economy.

Baltimore Tracks is launching with 22 companies and a set of five initiatives, aimed at sharing and strengthening diversity and inclusion in hiring and workplaces. It’s an effort from key companies within Baltimore’s growing tech sector to address opportunity shortcomings in an industry that has racial divides nationwide, and to do so in a majority-Black city, where generational inequalities often play out along economic lines.

A group of leaders at startups, agencies and growth companies formed the coalition in the months following the nationwide reckoning with systemic racism in the summer of 2020. It was a time when many companies were making statements about their commitments to diversity. They wanted to create something more lasting.

“We started Baltimore Tracks because we were inspired to take action after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery over the summer,” said Sherrod Davis, chief of staff at Fells Point-based healthcare analytics firm Protenus, which spearheaded the coalition. “We wanted to do something beyond just making a statement and really wanted what we did to be focused on Baltimore. Baltimore is over 60% Black and so it’s a great opportunity to build a model for inclusivity and equity in technology. We think Baltimore has the ingredients to emerge as a new, more socially conscious tech community.”

And for the founding companies that are growing in Baltimore, it comes back to being part of the city’s business community.

“From the Ravens fans to the seafood lovers; we’ve found so much joy and love in Baltimore,” said  James Fillyaw, a business support manager at b.well Connected Health and steering committee member. “But we wanted to give back, influence change, and truly drive an initiative that would have a positive impact on the lives of so many talented, passionate, and creative underrepresented residents.”

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Baltimore Tracks also comes amid a pandemic-caused economic downturn that has brought growth for tech roles as the world shifted to digital. That has put a focus on expanding opportunity in the growing industry, so there’s intention here to work toward that being equitable, and therefore increase opportunity and generational wealth for the city’s Black population. After all, tech skills have been tabbed as being key to driving more family-supporting jobs.

These long-term goals will require many steps to get there. To start, the coalition is launching with a set of five shared commitments, centered around hiring:

  • Measure results. Companies will conduct an annual diversity equity inclusion (DEI) audit/demographic survey that will quantitatively analyze the state of diversity, equity and inclusion at each organization, and measure the demographic composition of the coalition’s collective workforce.
  • Pay all interns. Internships will be paid, and structured to recruit candidates reflective of the demographic population of Baltimore, specifically focusing on underrepresented groups.
  • Share qualified candidates who apply to the companies, but aren’t hired immediately for limited openings. This will focus on applicants from underrepresented demographic groups.
  • Remove degree requirements for a four-year degree or higher from a job posting, and focus on qualifying skills when professional degrees or certifications are not required.
  • Share best practices about DEI efforts, such as anti-bias training consultants, diverse candidate job boards and relevant research.

As with most things involving tech companies, data will be a key place to start. Many companies haven’t conducted their own DEI audits, so there will be initial work will seek to form a baseline from which to bring change.

“In this first year, all of the companies involved in Baltimore Tracks will be conducting DEI audits of their workforce. This will give us a solid benchmark to work from,” said Meredith Bennett, account director and chair of DEI at Locust Point-based tech agency Mindgrub, and a steering committee member. “We’re excited to see the impact reflected in the following year’s DEI audit and know that will be data-driven proof of the success of the program.”

Davis said the data can help to drive how they work to solve problems. If a company as a particularly high percentage of Black talent, they’ll look at the language they used in job postings or specific hiring networks that helped them get there.

The coalition members bring different business approaches and different approaches to this work already. Otterbein-based Catalyte has software designed to reduce bias and retraining built into its talent model, and helped launch RetrainAmerica. Fells Point-based Think|Stack has a leadership team that has been focused on building a diverse and inclusive culture.

“We know that the job satisfaction is greater when a company is diverse we know that there is increased creativity, there’s more innovation and overall better performance, and all of those leads to results both internally and externally,” said Cal Bowman, VP of innovation and strategy at Think|Stack.

Digital health company b.well Connected Health had a diversity and inclusion mission and vision, committee, mission and roadmap. That meant the company could move quickly to implement the commitments, including removing college degree requirements from postings on its website. Software development consultancy SmartLogic has taken inclusive steps in its hiring process, and pay equity.

But there’s also power in the coalition, especially in a field that values companies taking their own approaches to solve problems.

“One of the great opportunities that Baltimore Tracks creates is this opportunity to collaborate with tech companies in Baltimore,” Bowman said. “We’ve been intentional about saying, there is a challenge here. More importantly, there is an opportunity if we break down those barriers and walls and create more equitable opportunities for people of color.”

For one, there’s plenty to learn from each other. In joining the coalition, Bennett said the opportunity to share candidates and best practices was appealing to Mindgrub. And b.well has already incorporated practices after sharing with the group.

Michael Castagnola, chief of staff at SmartLogic, said the act of working together on these initiatives can show “that we can all be on the same page trying to take steps towards improving diversity, equity and inclusion within our firms, and if we can do that synchronously, we are in a much better position to take increasingly impactful steps because we will have come together and acted on it as a consensus, which itself is powerful.”

So as it gets launched, the leaders are looking to grow that tent, and the tech community’s voice. In the long term, it’s about building a community that’s inclusive.

“Success means that we get many more Baltimore-based companies to join us by making these commitments and that these commitments drive more equity and inclusion throughout our city,” Davis said. “Success means that the tech leaders stay engaged in trying to find solutions to these tough problems.”

Here’s a look at the full list of companies that are in the coalition:

  • Allovue
  • Audacious Inquiry
  • Apkudo
  • b.well
  • Balti Virtual
  • Catalyte
  • Cerebro Capital
  • clean.io
  • Facet Wealth
  • Fearless
  • idfive
  • Kapowza
  • Mindgrub
  • Mind Over Machines
  • Nyla Technologies
  • Pinkaloo
  • Protenus
  • SmartLogic
  • Techslice
  • Think
  • ThinkStack
  • VitusVet
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