July 1, 2021

Editor’s note:  Who we are as a company has been on our minds lately here at hc1. It’s just as important as what we do, because each individual on our team contributes something of themselves to the solutions we deliver. So we asked hc1 Talent Acquisition Manager, Keegan Jiles, to share his perspectives on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

As an African American and the recruiter for hc1, I have my own set of moral conflicts with the “corporate approach” to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). I like to believe my environment shaped who I am, not my complexion. So if my skin tone has nothing to do with the skills I bring to my career, why is DEI so important? I believe that answer is perspective.

Checking the box

Growing up in Columbus, Indiana (home to multinational manufacturer Cummins’ headquarters), I grew up around diversity. While white people were the majority, the collective BIPOC (black, indigenous, and other people of color) community felt equally prevalent in my high school and extracurricular activities.

On paper, I could have been written off as the stereotypical child of a teenage pregnancy from a low-income family. However, after a substantial hospital settlement resulting from the passing of my younger sister, my parents were given an opportunity to provide opportunities for me and my brothers. It is only because of that tragedy that I’ve been blessed with the so-called “white privileges.” I grew up in a neighborhood with many Cummins Directors and VPs, and most of my friends were white and upper middle-class.

This environment has shaped my perspective on DEI. I’ve been immersed in privileged communities while being raised by the underprivileged. Sympathizing with the wants of “privileged” hiring managers, I sincerely believe they aren’t making a conscious decision to not seek diversity; the best talent they interview just happens to look like them.

However, I also empathize with the needs of underprivileged job candidates.  I know the challenges that exist to break through poverty, poor education, and overall lack of resources to advance.

My immediate family was able to “make it” simply by unfortunate chance. But what if I never had that “opportunity for opportunities” when I was younger? Would hc1 have 100% fewer African Americans? If more African Americans had my same opportunities, would we see a more diverse technology community?

The elephant in the room

As a tech company, hc1 is in one of the most competitive battles for talent in our country today. I know that we are hiring the best talent in front of us, which is what has made my experience with my peers so incredible. No one is hired because of pigment or identity—they’re hired for their perspectives and skills. We shouldn’t be ashamed of the skin colors we see in the room, because their minds are the most valuable asset to us.

Diversity still begs the simple question, though—if each of those minds were shaped in similar environments, where do we go to find unique perspectives? This is where I’ve found things become tricky.

Those who have established themselves in their tech careers often had similar opportunities as I did growing up: money for college, access to technology, a strong network, etc. As a relatively immature industry, we see that many (if not most) senior-level candidates have benefited from similar socio-economic circumstances. Nationwide we see that hiring managers in tech are often seeking a “purple squirrel,” demanding 10 years of experience with a technology that is only 12 years old. This creates tremendous barriers of entry for emerging talent that had to overcome adversity to break into the tech scene. So how can we make our ecosystem a more equitable candidate market?

Accountability in action

Kenzie Academy (KA) offers affordable, online programs in software engineering and UX design to prepare students to start their technology careers. They offer hands-on, immersive project experiences to equip their students with the skills that employers demand the most. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of working with KA students to discuss how they can accelerate their careers. Students at Kenzie (and similar programs) offer a tremendous opportunity to foster a diverse ecosystem; the adversity they face in transitioning careers, alone, offers ample diversity in perspectives.  

If we truly want to bring equity to the candidate market, we have to empower these diverse prospects to enter the workforce successfully.  While we may not always be able to offer resources or opportunities to these candidates, we can always offer our time and our guidance.  Having recruited on behalf of over 90 companies for thousands of tech positions, I offer valuable perspectives for these students early in their careers.  The least I can do to contribute toward our diverse ecosystem is to educate them on the fundamentals of resumes, interviews, and personal branding—the key insights that are needed to find their first entry-level opportunity.

Looking into the future, I encourage everyone in the tech space to adopt a similar philosophy. Look for programs, organizations, schools, or individuals with ambitions for the tech scene and simply offer your time. Whether or not you are satisfied with the volume of diversity in your organization, investing in the future of our ecosystem offers tremendous opportunities for our employers and candidates alike.

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