Maximizing technology's reach: Diversity In/Tech event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard - Technical.ly Brooklyn

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Jan. 29, 2014 5:33 pm

Maximizing technology’s reach: Diversity In/Tech event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Participants at Tuesday's technology conference made it clear that achieving diversity goals in the technology sector isn't just about fitting X underrepresented group into Y position and calling it a day.

Red Hook WiFi Project fellows, from the Red Hook Initiative.

(Photo by Brady Dale)

You can’t reach any diversity goals by simply forcing one underrepresented group into a given role. You need to create holistic changes, widening a staffing pipeline, broadening educational opportunities and growing a given network.

It was a theme that ran across discussions at Diversity In/Tech, a mini-conference on the issue of inclusivity organized by Technical.ly Brooklyn in partnership with the Brooklyn Navy Yard. A standing-room only crowd of more than 80 kicked off the event, beginning with a welcome from new Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

(Here’s a small commercial: Diversity In/Tech marks the beginning of the company’s monthly series of events. To see the list of planned events look here, or simply join our Meetup or mailing list and find out about them as RSVPs go live. The next event is “State of Brooklyn Startups,” on Feb. 25 at the DUMBO Startup Lab.)

The keynote for the event was provided by Jennifer Lawton, president of 3D printing giant MakerBot, who told the story of graduating in the early 1980s with a degree in mathematics, at a time before the STEM degree madness took hold. She turned an administrative assistant job into the running an AutoCAD department, when none of the engineers on staff knew how to use the new system.

She eventually turned that work into a whole company that effectively sold software as a service, before anyone was really talking about SAAS.  She eventually made her way to MakerBot in the days when the company only had about 45 employees. It now employs roughly ten times that, and Lawton was able to describe some features of MakerBot’s hiring practices that make it different:

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  • The company has a 70 percent Brooklyn workforce.
  • Computer pre-screening and keyword searches are not used at MakerBot, making strong cover letters extremely important.
  • The company is looking for evidence of creativity and genuine interest in the technology.
  • Its hiring managers have been known to take the unusual step of suggesting applicants transfer their applications to another job, if it seems more appropriate.

David Ehrenberg, CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, opened the event, which was held at Bldg 92, and Danielle Romano, a vice president of the corporation, moderated the first roundtable.

The event included three panel discussions: one on STEM education, one on hiring inclusively and one on supporting diverse entrepreneurs. Look for more details on these panels in subsequent posts.

In order to take a deeper dive, the larger group then split into three separate breakout sessions, led by representatives of the Startup Institute on entrepreneurship, Etsy on hring and the Red Hook Initiative on pipeline issues. The talent pipeline came up a lot over the course of the day. What companies are cultivating a broad range of future employees?

Participants engaged actively in Q&A and networking throughout the day. Be sure to let Technical.ly Brooklyn know if connections made at Diversity In/Tech led to meaningful partnerships later on. Ninety-five people RSVP’d in advance to the sold out event.

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