Generation Z was born with imagination, Ibrahim Diallo told a room of tech and media practitioners at the second annual Tech Inclusion conference in New York on Thursday.
On stage with him were Olivia Ross and Boubacar Diallo (no relation to Ibrahim) — all high school students and, on this day, Generation Z ambassadors to 300 conference attendees interested in creating more inclusive environments for the diverse young talent they’ll soon be trying to hire.
“I feel like I’ll be eternally grateful that my first experience coding was with other girls of color,” Ross said of her first hackathon with Black Girls Code. Tapping into the support network at the nonprofit, which last year made Google’s New York City office its home base, made her confident that she belonged and could hold her own in rooms full of developers who didn’t look like her.
These 15- and 16-year-olds started coding on their own, found online communities while they were in middle school, and are already thinking about using technology for good.
“Our generation needs to learn the skills of tech but unlearn the discrimination that comes with it,” Boubacar Diallo said.
When asked about what they’re looking for in a company, many of the teens echoed some of the workplace qualities that once resulted in much hand wringing when millennials began to enter the workforce: open offices, highly collaborative environments, relaxed dress codes.
They also called out specifics like mental health support, flexible work hours, and seeing people who look like them in leadership roles.
Some of the event’s other speakers — Jennifer Brown, an author and diversity and inclusion consultant; Sharon Cohen, executive vice president of marketing partnerships at Nickelodeon; and Lynee Luque, director of human resources at Twitter — offered up ideas for recruiting and retaining the next generation of tech talent.
Lead With Vulnerability
Many of the workplace characteristics Olivia, Ibrahim, and Boubucar will look for have to do with “covering,” as it was described in a 2013 study by Deloitte. The authors outline four ways people feel they must hide or adjust in the workplace in order to succeed: physical appearance, affiliation with stereotypes, advocating for your own community, and association with other individuals from your minority group in a work setting.
“We are navigating what’s safe to share about all of the richness of who we are,” said Brown. “What are you choosing to show and is it serving you?”
Leaders need to set an example of being more open and own their differences in order to build a culture where employees feel they can bring their entire selves to work.
“It’s not just about representation in the room,” said Cohen, “but creating an environment where people also feel they can speak up.”
Push Past Comfortable
“We all have privileged and non-privileged parts of who we are,” Brown said, challenging the audience to consider how they use their privilege for good and also where they look for allies.
“Allyship is truly going to change our workforce cultures,” she added. “Being well-meaning is not enough.”
“Give people permission to be uncomfortable,” Cohen, from Nickelodeon, said. “If it’s not uncomfortable you probably aren’t taking it far enough.”
Continue To Iterate
Rarely do you have all the perspectives you need in one meeting, said Luque. This becomes abundantly clear when she’s challenged with creating programs that meet the needs of 3,400 global employees.
“At the end of every meeting I ask ‘What am I missing?’” she said. Then she tries to add those missing perspectives. “It’s an iterative process.”