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9 inclusivity recommendations for tech workplaces from Philadelphia youth

Launchpad students put together a list of policy ideas — from paid sabbaticals to cultural events — demanding efforts toward diversity, equity and inclusion from their future employers.

Launchpad students at the organization's Philadelphia HQ. (Courtesy)
This guest post features ideas from Launchpad students, co-written into a list by Executive Director Dannyelle Austin and High School Program Director Nick Imparato. Launchpad’s mission is to connect high school students to high-paying tech careers.

Discussion of what Gen Z wants from work and how they’ll approach career-building too often fails to bring in the voices of young people themselves. 

At Launchpad, the Philadelphia tech workforce development program, people aged 16 to 21 are included in those conversations from the start. 

We put Black and brown youth at the forefront of diversity, equity and inclusion discussions, and ask them directly what they want to see. After all, their inclusion is not just a matter of representation, but a key to fostering true understanding and dismantling systemic barriers. 

Our students come to our facility from over 30 Philadelphia public and charter high schools to learn full stack web development, Python, AI and core work readiness skills. 

We don’t only teach coding, though. Since early April, our students have moved through an in-depth research process looking into common DEI best practices as well as potential missteps. Working in teams, students aggregated dozens of examples, case-studies and company DEI policies in order to better understand the current landscape and best practices in the space. 

The result? Ten policy recommendations for companies looking to ensure their workplace maintains its commitment to equity and inclusion for the next generation.

By actively involving our students in setting policies, practices and procedural recommendations, particularly in tech workplaces, we ensure the solutions developed are relevant, responsive and sensitive to the unique challenges faced by these communities. 

Here’s what Gen Z wants to see from their future employers. 

Skills-based hiring is a more objective way to measure candidates

Implementing a skills-based hiring process allows prospective employees to showcase their capabilities, knowledge and ability to fulfill job responsibilities, regardless of their education levels or demographics. 

What does it mean in practice? Employers using this approach only advertise the skills required to be successful for a position and remove any job requirements not directly connected to those skills, such as a college degree

This approach addresses unfair disadvantages certain individuals may face in traditional hiring processes. By prioritizing skills in the hiring process, employers are able to tap into the wide array of qualified candidates who are coming from workforce development programs, certification programs and relevant work experience who do not have a degree. 

Language preference policies let people express themselves freely

A language preference policy in the workplace encourages candidates to communicate in their preferred language during the application and interview process. 

It also provides interviewers who speak the candidate’s language to significantly enhance workplace diversity, equity and inclusion to foster a more comfortable environment for employees to express themselves linguistically and promote cultural awareness.

Virtual reality is great for DEI training and onboarding

We’ve all seen or taken mandatory online courses provided by employers or schools to teach individuals to be more inclusive or ethical. However, too often these courses fail to grasp the user’s attention, and are either half-watched or outright ignored. To combat that, some companies use virtual reality education and training instead, like in the medical field and even workplace soft skill and harassment training

But VR can also help tech workplaces become more inclusive by creating experiences that truly simulate diverse situations, increasing emotional investment and employee buy-in. 

Employees can fully engage with these scenarios, practicing how to communicate inclusively and address biases in a simulated setting in order to be better prepared for an actual incident. VR training also helps employers understand accessibility issues and encourages designing products and services that everyone can use. 

Paid sabbaticals promote personal and professional growth 

Mandating periodic paid sabbaticals for employees promotes personal growth and rejuvenation, alleviates burnout and encourages creativity. That’s vital for individuals navigating systemic inequities and discrimination.

Unlike traditional PTO, a sabbatical affords an opportunity to truly disconnect from work and take time to recharge and return refreshed, potentially, with new skills or experience to bring to an employer. 

Generous PTO policies support employees’ unique challenges

A generous paid time off policy provides underrepresented people in tech with the flexibility and support needed to address unique challenges they may face. This includes attending cultural or community events, dealing with discrimination-related stress or managing family responsibilities.

Additionally, PTO promotes work-life balance, mental health and overall well-being, fostering a more inclusive and supportive workplace environment where everyone can thrive. 

While there may be challenges with offering unlimited PTO, creating a set of policies with leadership buy-in that genuinely encourage employees to take time off goes a long way toward creating an equitable workplace.

Remote work stipends give options for different types of work

Implementing remote work stipends can enhance diversity, equity and inclusion by supporting remote employees with allowances for conducive work environments. The costs of a work setup can be a real barrier for an employee who otherwise would be a fantastic fit for that role.

While providing a device is standard, an additional stipend helps underrepresented individuals who may face additional barriers accessing resources to effectively work remotely. 

For example, resources could include a private room to take a video call, a high quality mic and webcam, a comfortable chair to sit in and a workspace that is organized and clean. 

Cultural food exploration connects people in a low stakes way

Food is a universal connector. Workplaces can use it to celebrate and honor diverse cultures. 

For example, companies could designate a featured culture each month, during which all food provided for meetings, events and other occasions, would celebrate that culture. The workplaces could also offer employees company-provided perks to dine at local restaurants featuring the cuisine of the selected culture. 

More generally, companies can build inclusivity by celebrating diversity in its workforce. This can be overt, like throwing cultural events. By highlighting a different cultural or identity group each month, the company seeks to strengthen relationships among colleagues and create a sense of belonging for all employees.

Mentorship programs create support systems at work

Implementing internal mentorship programs between new and experienced employees, complemented by community-based mentorship initiatives, can create a comprehensive support system. 

It empowers employees from underrepresented groups, promotes career advancement opportunities and fosters a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture. 

There is already a precedent of employers instituting successful mentorship programs within a company as well as non-profit organizations setting up mentoring programs that span multiple companies. Benefitting both the mentor and mentee, these sorts of programs help create a culture of belonging that spans ranks and experience levels.

School-based partnerships involve young people early on

By providing opportunities and guidance, partnerships between schools and tech companies aim to eliminate barriers to entry. It also cultivates a more inclusive and diverse tech community, offering industry-aligned education, work-based learning, networking, diversity promotion and skill development. 

Launchpad, for example, already does this work in Philadelphia, serving as a liaison between local schools and employers to build accelerated, effective pipelines into Philly’s tech industry. 

Due to the absence of computer science classes in many high schools, many young adults are simply not aware of the opportunities available in tech. By either working with local organizations or directly with schools themselves, employers can utilize school-based partnerships to increase their talent pool.

Companies: Launchpad

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