Today's Tech Firms Could Learn Something From The Steel Mills Of Yesteryear

Aug 10, 2020

Gina Winstead wants to see the technology industry act more like the manufacturing industry of the past, at least when it comes to hiring and training talent.

Years ago, when her father and grandfather worked in the steel mills, Winstead said they didn't go to college to learn how to be steel workers; they learned on the job, from experienced employees on the floor of the factory.

Winstead is vice president of the non-profit Women in Tech PGH, and said tech companies could use that type of model today to attract and train a more diverse workforce.

“If you really want to implement change, you have to meet people where they are. If they are starting at the baseline, companies can develop internal programs where they offer the actual education,” Winstead said.

While institutions like Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh are the obvious go-to places for tech firms to find talent, Winstead said achieving diversity and inclusion may require them to think outside the box.

A 2018 study from the Brookings Institution found that companies can't wait for applicants to come to them. Instead, they must intentionally engage with diverse communities. Winstead said that means firms need to bridge the gap between underserved communities and job opportunities.

“Go on Google, read the paper, look up diversity in tech in Pittsburgh and find organizations that are working on educating communities through non-traditional means,” Winstead said.

In addition, Winstead noted that there has to be more accountability from the top down to improve tech equity. She said Microsoft, for example, has a bonus structure tied to executing diversity, equity and inclusion plans.

Winstead added the tech sector has to do more to retain the people of color that they hire. That, she said, will help attract even more diverse applicants.

“If you don’t see someone doing the work that you want to do, that looks like you, that comes from a background like you, whether it’s being a woman or person of color or being LGBTQ, you may never envision yourself as being able to accomplish that job,” she said.

Winstead said Women in Tech PGH is doing its part to help boost tech diversity by offering women of color and LGBTQ individuals the opportunity to apply for a scholarship to attend an online boot camp. Those applications are being accepted through August 15 at witpgh.org.