Shannon Morales has a mission to create space for technologists from underrepresented backgrounds in Philly tech.
Last summer, the founder of social distancing gamification app Stealth.ify visited Silicon Valley and couldn’t help but marvel at “how amazing their network of people starting businesses was.”
“Being in the epicenter of technology and innovation was a wake-up call,” she told Technical.ly. “Everyone out there had a business idea and creating something new and exciting. I saw just how valuable being in the technology industry could be. It provides a great source of income, job security, and a means to create new products that can change the world.”
Specifically, “I wanted to bring a piece of Silicon Valley back and build a Latinx organization” in Philly — because, simply put, there were none.
That inspiration led Morales to start Philadelphia’s chapter of Techqueria, an organization to support and create space for Latinx people in the local tech industry. Techqueria offers mentoring, professional support and networking for its members. Coronavirus has changed the way Techqueria connects its members in person — its IRL launch event in May had to be canceled — but fun virtual events and contests for things like free lunch help keep community members engaged. (Join the Techqueria community to access the Philly Slack channel where organizing happens.)
Latinx people and other communities of color are historically underrepresented in tech: According to a recent Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Hispanic/Latinx people compose just 7% of about 33,000 local STEM workers and Black people make up 15%, contributing to Philly’s second-place diversity-in-tech ranking among other big cities. (The city overall is about 15% Hispanic/Latinx and 44% Black.)
“I think an issue with diversity in the tech community is there are not a lot of people [like you] who you can go to and ask for help,” she says. “That’s why community organizations like [Techqueria] are important. You have a support system and it’s easier when you have people from similar backgrounds in building that support.”
Having begun her career in finance, Morales’ experience as an African American and Colombian woman navigating the professional world played an integral role in her starting the chapter.
“I wanted to create a way for people from different backgrounds to access different career activities and [mentors that] want to develop you and train you and not mind being there with you,” she said.
It’s a fitting initiative for Morales, the founder of Echo Me Forward, a digital platform that enables employers to find and hire diverse talent, as well as a resource for that talent to prepare for tech employment via skills training, career coaching and more. The company was a part of Philly Startup Leaders’ idea-stage accelerator this spring. She’s also partnered with community organizations such as Hopeworks and Out In Tech to create a “consortium of tech talent” that could be accessible to clients.
While many businesses and organizations canceled their summer internship programs due to coronavirus, Morales decided to keep her three interns via Drexel University’s co-op program for Echo Me Forward. The decision relates to evening the professional playing field, too.
“We decided to be completely virtual but not cancel our internships and wanted to be able to give back and be a part of the change and not a part of the problem,” Morales said. “Allowing students to see how to adapt to change is important from a personal and professional perspective. We had challenges in adapting but they’re still learning and thriving.”
Recent protests for racial equality and against police brutality and Echo Me Forward’s mission of hiring and attracting more Black and Latinx people to Philly’s tech scene have led Morales to start Philly Hires Black, a pledge for tech companies to hire more Black individuals.
Morales says that the pledge will lead to more intentional hiring and community engagement. Employees from companies that take the pledge will be asked to participate in an annual survey that will allow Echo Me Forward to track diversity, equity and inclusion metrics and offer feedback to its corporate partners.
Organizations that sign take the pledge will receive a Philly Hires Black T-shirt designed by a Black Philly designer Samantha Eusebio and continued partnership with Echo Me Forward to lead their diversity and inclusion strategies. All profits from the Philly Hires Black T-shirt sales will be donated to organizations that help underrepresented communities build tech skills.
In the next week, Morales will reach out to 120 companies to take the pledge.Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
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