Going into Enterprise Connect 2023, we pretty much knew that the biggest buzzword was going to be AI, specifically generative AI. And we knew that hybrid work was going to be the other huge topic of conversation. I’ll be saying more in this space over the weeks ahead about what we saw on these topics, but for today’s newsletter, I want to talk about diversity.
Despite many segments of the tech industry making sincere and energetic efforts, tech is not as diverse as it should be. At Enterprise Connect, we decided to focus our efforts on the next generation, so we partnered with Diversity Org, a nonprofit that works with local schools to bring students from minority and underrepresented communities together with corporate entities. The idea is to show these students the opportunities for building successful and prosperous careers, and to inspire them to consider pursuing their goals in the fields they learn about.
So, on March 28, two Orlando-area high schools brought a total of 74 students to Enterprise Connect at the Gaylord Palms hotel to learn about opportunities in high tech and get them excited about potential careers in our industry. The students toured booths on the show floor to see the technology in action, then participated in two activities: A “career exposure panel” in which six IT/comms professionals talked about their work and how they got into it (see photo); and some informal networking, in which a couple dozen representatives from EC23 sponsoring companies engaged the students in one-on-one and small-group conversations about the industry.
Here are a few comments that our partners at Diversity Org received in feedback from the students:
- “I enjoyed hearing about the struggles [speakers] went through because now knowing if I struggle, I wasn’t alone.”
- "Definitely getting to understand the struggles of other engineers and professionals is very motivational. It makes us all realize we’re only human and we all make mistakes, no matter the profession."
- "I enjoyed learning about the panelists' different backgrounds and the struggles they overcame to get to where they are now. Learning about the different fields they work in opened my eyes to new interests; feeding my determination to network with other companies and explore LinkedIn."
Enterprise Connect sponsors have been just as enthusiastic throughout the process. When I first put out the call late last year to all of our sponsors, seeking participation in this effort, I was blown away by the response. About a quarter of the companies then signed up to exhibit at the show indicated a willingness to participate, most of them responding with an enthusiastic, “This is great!” or “We’d love to participate.” Those who took part on the day of the event were warm, accessible, friendly, and above all, encouraging.
This was not a job fair; the students who came to Enterprise Connect still have their high school graduations ahead of them (though some asked about internships). One of the reasons for targeting this age group is that they can plan the rest of their high school studies and look towards college with an eye on what they’ll need to study and achieve if they want to succeed in our industry. And from the industry side, this program is just one small part of the effort to build a more diverse talent pipeline for an industry that desperately needs it.
We won’t make the tech industry more diverse with just one approach. There need to be internships, mentoring programs, corporate-level DEI initiatives, the whole gamut of strategies. What we at Enterprise Connect chose to do, as the place where the IT/communications industry meets, was to open up a channel to young people looking for opportunities and tell them: We need you. Companies large and small are interested in hiring smart young people like you. There can be a place for you in an exciting industry where the future is boundless.
We at Enterprise Connect are excited to build on what we started last week. It was clear to me that our sponsors and stakeholders are just as enthusiastic about using our event as one of hopefully many ways that we all come together to take action toward creating a more diverse industry.
I’d like to close by offering a huge thank-you to the Enterprise Connect sponsors who supported this effort by hosting booth tours and/or sending representatives to participate in the panel discussion and informal networking: ASC Technologies; AtlasIED; Bandwidth; Barco; BlueJeans by Verizon; CallMiner; Cisco; Cognigy; Edify; Genesys; Google; GoTo; Jabra; Klearcom; Landis Technologies; Microsoft; Neat; Qobis; Ribbon; SCT; Shure; SmartTech; TSG Global; Twilio; UJet; VMWare; Vonage; Zoom. I’d also like to thank Juanita Coley of Solid Rock Consulting and Sinead Aylward of Johnson Controls for contributing such positive energy and practical wisdom as members of the career exposure panel. All of these folks have helped us start something big.