Making Work Environments More Inclusive in Austin

While there are numerous disagreements regarding where to get the best barbecue or the tastiest breakfast taco here in Austin, there are two points that people in the city mostly agree on in terms of jobs: Austin is diverse in the type of consumer brands we have and the city is a great place to succeed if you do not have a college degree.

But is that really all we can boast about in a city with so much talent?

At the quarterly Stump the Developer event, the conversation focused on the topic of diversity in tech. Lani Rosales of Austin Digital Jobs moderated a great discussion around why diversity is important in the workplace, how it’s imperative to create employee resource groups (ERGs) and how the term “culture fit” can be a red flag.

This event followed the lead of an awesome group of panelists made up of Donnet BruceElisa Sepulveda, and Kayden Arias Sharky Althen. The three techies openly shared their experiences in Austin, the city’s pros and cons, taking the lead on diversity initiatives, and the benefits of working at a company that takes a stance on diversity.

Donnet Bruce, a marketing project manager at Volusion, is a Miami native who recently made the move to Austin. She loves the diverse atmosphere at her new company and wants to continue to see the same energy at other companies across the city. Donnet is heavily involved in BlackTech Week, a six-day conference where leaders, investors, and recruiters can come together to network with other black professionals in the technology space.

Diversity Panel

With such a passion for bringing people together, it should be no surprise that Donnet is also working to create a diversity affinity group at Volusion so others can have a safe space to discuss topics important to them. She believes that it’s certainly the time of, “if you can’t get a seat at the table, you may have to build your own table,” and many members of the audience quickly agreed.

Elisa Sepulveda, an evangelist at Galvanize, also agrees with Donnet. While she sees a lot of positives in Austin (the first two points in the story are hers), Elisa recognizes the challenges that can arise with human resources, or other company leaders, when employees try to create or make changes to diversity policies, job applications, health benefits and other important items in order to better accommodate current and future employees.

The good news here is that Austin is filled with so many amazingly friendly people who are always ready to help with any issue at the drop of a hat, and Elisa is one of them. She remineded us that people in Austin are open to grabbing a coffee to discuss how they can provide mentorship on a variety of issues, especially issues surrounding diversity. There aren’t many individuals who are simply unreachable or who will refuse to help you create an inclusive work environment.

Once you receive the feedback you’re looking for, it’s time to approach executives with a course of action. Elisa stressed the importance of never approaching the C-Suite with questions that you don’t already know the answer to as they expect you to have the answers to the problem you want to be fixed laid out for them.

Kayden Arias Sharky Althen, a software developer in test at Rackspace, knows a thing or two about making change at his company. Kayden was able to help improve benefits for transgender employees as well as create employee resource groups for LGBTQ employees, women and more. By having the support of others at work, Kayden felt as if he had the ability to approach executives and get the resources that he, and so many others at Rackspace, felt they needed. At the end of the day, his move was a win-win because not only was he was able to make a change that improved the quality of life at his company, he was able to make Rackspace appear more appealing when compared to other companies who already offer the same benefits.

While we can all admit that there’s something special about Austin, it’s also easy to get looked over due to the large amount of talent in the city. Age discrimination comes up on both spectrums. Recruiters seem to only focus on The University of Texas instead of Huston Tillotson, St. Edwards, Austin Community College and Concordia University. Employers want to hire someone who they can potentially hang out with instead of the best candidate for the role.

These known problems have been discussed many times over, but it’s time to finally make Austin a true leader in the diversity in tech scene and reduce bias once and for all. The BLNDED Media team is looking forward to being a part of the movement that these many discussions have sparked.

Keep an eye out for the next Stump The Developer event in Q2! Special thanks to the Austin Digital Jobs Group, Vitamin T and Accruent for hosting a great discussion.

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