Benjamin Vann and Raamel Mitchell
Benjamin Vann and Raamel Mitchell

The Dallas Examiner

The Women’s Museum in Fair Park was abuzz as about 800 aspiring inventors and entrepreneurs worked together to brainstorm solutions to modern societal challenges as part of HackDFW, during the weekend of Feb. 16 and Feb. 17.

The annual hackathon began in 2014 and brought together technology enthusiasts to tinker with their own inventions while supporting and encouraging each other.

In the spirit of the event, HackDFW teamed with Impact House, a Dallas-based nonprofit that promotes minorities in science, technology and business fields, to host #HackTheCultureChallenge.

The challenge invited more than 500 professionals to discuss the challenges faced by women and minorities in the technology and business fields.

“Two percent right now of individuals from African American and Latin communities are represented in technology right now,” said Benjamin Vann, Impact House founder and executive director. “For Dallas/Fort Worth, we’re the number six largest tech workforce base in the country right now. Being the sixth largest and only two percent are represented in it nationwide, that’s a huge gap.”

Vann moderated a panel discussion Saturday afternoon called “Impacting the Bottom Line Through Diversity,” in which four professionals gave advice for getting jobs and working as minorities.

Raamel Mitchell, Microsoft citizenship and public affairs director, suggested a talent pipeline for recruiting minority students into technology fields.

“If we look at women and technology, we see significant amount of interest among girls when they’re in about the second to the fifth grade,” Mitchell said.

He explained that interest in technology decreases among girls and women after fifth grade as well as after their sophomore year in college.

“This somewhat mirrors what we’re seeing also around other groups,” he said. “How do we help to create a pipeline that’s diverse, that’s inclusive, that understands and has access to the technologies and skillsets?”

Not only should companies consider recruiting students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as organizations like Society of Women Engineers, but they should also consider how they are growing those employees, Mitchell offered.

“Are they coming in at the appropriate level in comparison to the other groups that are there?” he continued. “These are uncomfortable conversations for managers sometimes.”

Tia Bradley, partner relationship manager for Intuit, a business and software company, said her company wants to increase underrepresented minorities by four percent over the next two years.

Companies should think of more ways to hire and develop diverse employees to achieve this goal, Bradley said.

“Where can we go to get the talent?” she questioned. “Once we’re able to hire the talent, what do they need? Where are they going to get their hair done? What church are they going to go to? Just things that you don’t typically think about when you hire someone, you need to be able to build that foundation for your employees as you’re becoming a more diverse and inclusive company.”

Amanda Morgan, technology supervisor for State Farm’s intern program, disclosed that her company is going to schools to get kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields.

Morgan also coaches students on her own time on behalf of State Farm.

“I go to a career fair and I see a student and they don’t understand that you have to look the part,” she said. “You have to be professional. You have to show that you want the job, rather than just because, ‘I’m Black. I’m going to get that opportunity.’”

Jessica Taylor of Toyota North America stressed the importance of “soft skills,” such as having ethics and morality, and the ability to communicate.

“The hiring manager doesn’t always know what these amazing equations are,” Taylor said. “We just know to look for Java and Script. Being able to articulate those things is very important.”

Taylor also shared the importance of being flexible in case one’s desired position is not available.

“A lot of times we get students who say, ‘I want to be a mechanical engineer, and that’s it,’” she explained. “[I say], ‘I have a manufacturing engineer [position]. Well, maybe if you take this role for a year, we can move you over.’ When you’re not flexible, you can miss opportunities and blessings because you’re not seeing it for what it can be.”

Morgan encouraged the audience to do personal projects outside of school.

“School can’t teach you everything that you need to know,” she said. “As an employer, I’m looking that you’re self-motivated to teach yourself more, to learn different languages, to be better within yourself.”

Mitchell told the audience that as long as they have a computer and cell phone, they are their own company.

“4K took us to the moon, and you’re walking around with how much memory in your phone?” he offered. “You’re really hot on Instagram, but what are you doing with it? You have power in your pocket.”

The panel, “The Uncharted Path: Tech Entrepreneurship,” hosted five entrepreneurs who shared their experiences starting businesses as minorities.

Donovan Bridgeforth, founder of The BLK App, which helps users find and patronize Black-owned businesses, said he has noticed changing outlooks toward business from his fellow millennials.

“What I’ve seen from the millennials and the people who are my friends, is that we don’t want to work that 9 to 5 [job],” Bridgeforth shared. “We’re trying to do this so we never have to get there. Kids coming out with bowtie companies and lemonade stands, I just see the entrepreneur getting younger and trying to get away from having to work for somebody else.”

Eric Townsend, founder and CEO of Zeeta, a delivery company, said young people now have power over big companies.

“Big companies are now scared of kids,” he expressed. “That’s what’s most exciting for me, any small thing that I do can scare these big companies. You either get bought out or beat them.”

Tammy Bowser, founder of Snag My Wedding, a company that helps customers resell their wedding, encouraged the audience to pursue their ideas even if they have been done before.

“A lot of times we get caught up in, ‘I’m not going to tell anyone my idea because they’re going to steal it,’” Bowser said. “They can’t steal your brain. They can’t steal how you’re going to do it. None of that can happen. Don’t let that hold you back in not putting it out there.”

When it comes to investors, Bowser insisted that entrepreneurs should stay open to their input.

“You have to be open, because obviously they saw something in what you already built,” she said. “Being open, but not letting your vision change, I think is great.”

Daniel Markland, founder of Versl, which helps disc jockeys with marketing, said investors think in black and white.

“A dollar in, I’m going to get $2 back,” Markland said.

Maxie Taylor, founder of GoodieBoxx, which builds robotic convenience pantries, also believed investors’ opinions should be valued.

“Over time, all money is good money,” Taylor said. “You’ll have a lot of people who will have opinions. Ultimately, if you have a good core of a concept, it’s okay to hear somebody else’s input, but it’s a delicate balance on that.”

Bridgeforth, however, disagrees that all money is good money.

“It’s not just a numbers game for me,” he said. “It has to all align with our brand and with our vision, so the money has to be good money. All money is not good money.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *