It’s not enough to identify and rally around the young rising stars in our communities, we must also “want to handhold [them].”
That’s what technologist Jumoke Dada said at Leading into the NExT Century, a leadership conference hosted by NExT Philadelphia, the Urban League’s network of young professionals.
By “handhold,” Dada and her fellow panelists — women from the finance and healthcare industries — emphasized the importance of taking a personal touch with young people. It’s a sentiment that resonated deeply with attendee Zarifa Roberson, who believes in the importance of supplying young people with the opportunity to “see life outside of Philadelphia because so many don’t get [that] chance.”
Hosted last Saturday, Leading into the NExT Century focused on equipping young Philadelphian professionals with vital leadership skills for their careers and highlighting industry growth in several key sectors in the city. To better understand the future of business trades for young African Americans in the area, NExT hosted an industry specific panel that featured Dada, cofounder of Project ALOE and founder of Tech Women Network; Dixieanne James, VP of strategic planning and business development for Albert Einstein Healthcare Network and Jasmine Richards, lead international equity analyst at FIS Group.
When discussing the technology specifically, Dada presented several takeaways about the overall status of Philly’s tech scene:
- We’re improving but we still have a long way to go.
It’s certainly not a new sentiment, but Dada is overall optimistic about Philly’s future. “I’m drawn to the potential here,” Dada explained. “You can really make your mark here.” She cited Philly Tech Week and the increase in diversity since its inception as a prime example.
However, she still believes that there’s a need for more publicity in addressing diversity. “There are so many people that are oblivious to just how much is going on,” according to Dada. “And I realized that I was once them. It wasn’t until I really picked up with my entrepreneurial endeavors that I started to go out and network and look for meetups and things like that. There are a number of people that simply do their jobs and go home.”
- We must be more intentional about highlighting women of color with expansive technical skills.
One of the gaps that Dada identified is the lack of visibility for women of color who have extensive backgrounds in tech. During Philly Tech Week, she found that many of the women of color she met were advocates and “ideas people,” instead of having “more women in the forefront who have worked in IT for 10 years or operated a tech company for over a decade.”
It’s an issue that Dada is tackling through her Tech Women Network. It’s a new endeavor, having only launched two months ago, and one that has come with challenges for Dada. Most prominently, the issue of getting the word out. “It’s still hard to get buy in,” Dada told Technical.ly. “It’s still hard to get people to collaborate.” Despite this, Dada is building a network that aims to connect tech-savvy women with each other and programs in area to assist their advancements.
- The hardest part about breaking into tech is choosing the right path.
One of the central aspects of the NExT Philadelphia is to educate their members and the community, which naturally led to the all-important query: what skills do you need to break into the tech industry in Philadelphia? At its heart, the matter to Dada, revolves around choice. Those interested in technology need to have an acute understanding of themselves. “Are you an organized thinker, extremely logical, creative?” Dada posed as she drove home the point that with the diversity of options within technology, one of the most difficult hurdles for first entries is finding the path that best suits them. Once that’s out of the way, then looking into certifications and finding experience can come into play. But at the end of the day, Dada advised that “if all else fails, build something for yourself.”
Naturally, these ideas and conversations aren’t simply unique to technology. One attendee posed a question about successfully merging interests in pharmacy and IT. James reiterated the importance of networking and mentors. Dada encouraged the attendee to take in account of what exactly about the intersection between pharmacy and IT interested her. Moments like these were the highlights of the hour-long discussion. In order to fully understand Philly’s future in these sectors and more, candid forums such as these must continue, Reed said.
If you’re interested in getting involved with NExT and the Urban League, their interests in the tech sector don’t stop here. The Urban League runs the Urban Tech Jobs Program to provide training and paid work experience for unemployed and underemployed adults looking to break into the job market. For more information about NExT Philadelphia and their future programming, click here.