Tech has a diversity problem.
This is hardly breaking news, as tech companies for years have been trying to increase the number of minorities and people of color on their teams. Facebook, somewhat infamously, put the blame on the pipeline during its recent diversity report that showed little progress in the company’s goal of hiring more African Americans and Hispanics. Facebook argued that schools weren’t doing enough to train minorities and give them the required skills for a career in tech.
Whether you buy Facebook’s reasoning, or think the company is trying to shift the blame, a new organization in Chicago is tackling the pipeline issue by offering free software sales training to people in underserved communities. And it has more than two dozen Chicago companies ready to interview the students once they finish the program.
Re:Work, a new non-profit sales training program that targets minorities on Chicago’s South and West sides, is partnering with Chicago tech hub Blue1647 to offer classes free of charge that teach basic sales skills like how to prospect, how to qualify leads, and hands on training with Salesforce and LinkedIn software.
Re:Work founder Harrison Horan (pictured), who’s also an account executive at Sprout Social, said the program isn’t looking for people with a Higher Ed background, and instead wants to find people who may have an associates degree, have had some university experience and dropped out, or who have no college at all.
“Minority numbers are low in tech,” Horan said. “We saw Facebook saying recently they didn’t have the pipeline of diverse candidates. It’s no joke that diversity is an issue in tech.”
Re:Work’s pilot program will begin in September and run through December. Held at Blue1647’s Pilsen location, classes will take place on the weekends and Re:Work plans to pay students’ travel stipends. The program is looking for 6 or 7 students for the first class, Horan said.
Re:Work has lined up 25 Chicago companies who have committed to interviewing the students after they complete the program, which range from startups with 25 employees up to 10,000-person companies. There’s no commitment from the employers beyond the initial interview, but Horan said the program is a foot in the door. And once students land an entry-level sales job at a tech company, they’ll be able to navigate to other areas of the business that interest them, like marketing or sales operations, Horan said.
“By getting people in the door with a sales role, it allows them to get in the door with these companies that are really growing and thriving. And then they can figure out what they want to do.”
Horan said he plans to expand the program into other cities, potentially bringing Re:Work to Blue1647’s other locations in Compton, St. Louis and elsewhere.
“At BLUE1647, we’re always looking for additional programming and partnerships that can provide pathways into tech, whether it’s workforce development or entrepreneurship,” Blue1647 CEO Emile Cambry said via email. “It’s also important we draw from the community, get some success stories, and truly fill the tech opportunity divide that exists … These opportunities are what it takes to move the needle and change the narrative.
Image via Blue1647’s Instagram