January 16, 2013 By Sarah Rich
To help integrate Chicago minorities into the city’s technology economy, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has appointed Chicago's first-ever technology industry diversity council.
The 12-member council will be responsible for helping to increase the percentage of minority employees for technology firms, increase the percentage of minority-owned and -operated technology firms, and helping find ways to transition students who attend Chicago public schools and city colleges into the technology economy, according to the mayor’s office.
Everyone on the council is a member of a minority group and has demonstrated leadership in promoting diversity in Chicago’s technology community.
The council has been given an initial four-month period to create recommendations, after which Emanuel will develop policies based on those recommendations.
CTO John Tolva said the individuals on the council represent the African American and Latino communities, and some representatives are women, since women are often a minority in the technology industry, though their working in tech startups is becoming more common.
Tolva also said one of the driving factors for emphasizing the importance of diversity in technology is that public schools and colleges are currently going through a transformation -- they're integrating more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields into education to better prepare students for the modern workforce.
“In promoting diversity in the workforce, we are helping the private sector lay the foundation, or extend the pipeline, from the schools, so there’s opportunity waiting for minorities to come out with engineering and science degrees,” Tolva said. “It just makes sense if you’re going to help a workforce acquire these skills that you have a market that reflects the needs for those skills, and that reflects the kind of ethnic and racial makeup of the city.”
Tolva said another major reason for emphasizing diversity through the newly appointed council is to create a more resilient, creative and innovative industry. From a market economics standpoint, integrating diversity can help many tech startups tap into markets that are otherwise being missed around the country.
Seyi Fabode, a Nigeria native who went to college in the UK and moved to the U.S. in 2008, was tapped to join the council. Fabode serves as the CEO and is a co-founder of Power2Switch, a tech startup that kicked off three years ago and provides a platform for people to compare markets for electricity.
He was selected for the council after demonstrating efforts to educate individuals about entrepreneurship through nonprofit Future Founders. The organization teaches individuals interested in becoming entrepreneurs proper skills needed to become one, so Fabode works with students by helping them learn more about technology involved in entrepreneurship.
Fabode said that because he was able to receive an education, he would like to focus on helping those in underserved communities with receiving an education as well. While on the council, Fabode plans to personally address the skills gap that exists in Chicago.
“The real goal that the diversity council has is to identify some actionable steps that the city can take to bridge that gap between what the companies will need and what the world will need in terms of skills for building businesses, developing innovative technology, and then to find the skills required [to carry out those goals],” Fabode said.
The full list of council members is as follows:
Josh Hernandez, Walk.by
Eddie Lou, Shiftgig
David Zapata, Zapwater
Roger Martinez, Quantum Crossings
Ian Hood, CGN Blackwell Global Consulting
Neal Sales-Griffin, Starter League
Emile Cambry, Cibola
Talia Mashiach, Eved
Darrell Higueros, Next Generation
Seyi Fabode, Power2Switch
Nancy Joseph-Ridge, Takeda
Daniel Salcedo, Mobcart
Photo of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel by David Kidd