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Ask an MSP ExpertQ: I am an MSP owner with a growing corps of technicians and support staff, but there is a definite lack of diversity. I want my employees to reflect the communities we serve. How can MSPs make their talent pools more diverse?

Great question and an increasingly important issue in today’s workforce! Tech companies have had well-documented struggles to create diverse workforces. But you don’t have to be Google or Facebook to implement a well-thought-out diversity program. Diversity and inclusivity can also be cultivated at the micro-level. For insight and inspiration, Smarter MSP reached out to Terik Tidwell, director of STEM Innovation at Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black college in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Tidwell points to the landmark 1983 study, a Nation at Risk, as outlining the need to invest in human capital for the country remain competitive, but that such investments fell short in the subsequent decades when it came to technology and minorities.

“Those kinds of investments could have shaped the evolution of the technology industry,” noted Tidwell, adding that we are seeing the implications now of lack of minority representation in tech.

Had minority representation been a priority in IT from its earliest days, Tidwell predicts we’d be in a different spot.

“IT would look completely different…. because of the lack of diversity, a lot of the technologies were not designed to be inclusive,” states Tidwell. It is not too late to create a more inclusive tech world.

Fixing the lack of representation

Tidwell points to two key issues that keep minorities out of tech jobs. One is a systematic issue on the part of schools and communities. Kids of all ethnicities need to be exposed to computers and IT at a very early age. He points to some countries that introduce concepts like AI in schools at middle school ages.

The second obstacle is on the business side. Even the smallest companies need to develop recruitment policies and practices that better reflect their communities.

“If people don’t see themselves in a company, why would they come to work there?” asks Tidwell, adding that there need to be people of color represented in the highest levels of businesses. And small, community businesses, like MSPs, can position themselves to lead the way in diversifying tech because they can be nimble in ways large corporations cannot.

“Linking your corporate social responsibility practices to your human capital development can work in many different ways,” details Tidwell. However you choose to do it, creating diversity will help enhance a brand, whether you are a 5-employee MSP or a 3,000-employee behemoth.

“There are steps that small companies can do to cultivate a diverse workforce and build their brand as an employer of choice. That is important because a lot of Generation Z are looking at brands that they want to work for, so the brand is very important,” says Tidwell.

Steps MSPs can take

Workplace learning: Create a scaffolding model so that potential minority employees can learn to grow and get to a level of expertise through apprenticeships.

Job shadowing: Get people as young as high schoolers to come in and immerse them in the excitement of stopping a cyberattack or repairing a downed network. “The need for intense exposure is so paramount, you have to disrupt people’s daily exposure to other outlets of attention, and if it is not intense and intentional, it may be problematic,” details Tidwell.

Internships: Provide an internship to someone in an underserved population. Providing a tech job to a college student for the summer is an investment in potential future diversity.

Externships for the students: These are shorter immersion experiences that allow students to get a taste of an occupation at an early age.  Work with schools and educators to familiarize them with your brand and what you do. Tidwell points out that many schools don’t have computer science teachers, so your MSP could help provide that IT exposure.

Externships for educators: Build bridges with local schools, community colleges, and vocational campuses so that educators can also get to know your business and your brand. They know which students are showing an early interest in IT and can help nurture their future.

Band together: Create a consortium with other companies to share shadowing, recruitment, and diversity experiences. This can be especially important for smaller companies looking for competitive advantages.

Future tech product success hinges on bringing together people of many experiences and perspectives.

“Demographics are shifting more towards a mixed society, and some of the challenges tech needs to solve will require a diverse group of people with diverse thoughts. You need access to experiences instead of just algorithms,” admits Tidwell.

Cultivating diversity and inclusivity will not only help IT as a whole, but will also likely help your brand’s bottom line.

Photo: Ivonne Wierink / Shutterstock

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Kevin Williams

Posted by Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams is a journalist based in Ohio. Williams has written for a variety of publications including the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic and others. He first wrote about the online world in its nascent stages for the now defunct “Online Access” Magazine in the mid-90s.

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