Nonprofit aims to build inclusivity in Washtenaw County’s tech industry – Concentrate

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This article is part of a series about diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in Washtenaw County’s tech sector. Support for this series is provided by Ann Arbor SPARK.

The tech industry is largely dominated by white men, but the nonprofit Tech[Inclusive] is trying to shake up the industry in Washtenaw County with a variety of initiatives aimed at fostering professional development opportunities for underrepresented people. 
 
Tech[Inclusive] aims to empower and advocate for people who are underrepresented in the industry while providing safe learning spaces and access to equitable workplaces. Chelsea resident and Tech[Inclusive] co-founder Ronda Bergman believes everyone should be empowered to find opportunity in the tech industry. 
 

Tech[Inclusive] co-founder Ronda Bergman.
While Bergman was studying to be a teacher, one of her counselors suggested that she take computer science courses. She worked for several companies in the Detroit area where she was the sole female developer. Bergman later worked at the nonprofit Girl Develop It (GDI), which offers software development education for women and non-binary individuals, for more than six years. However, in 2018 she joined over 200 GDI volunteers and staff in calling for major change at GDI, including more diverse leadership and more programs serving women in marginalized communities. Bergman left GDI, but her commitment to building inclusivity in the tech world remained, so Tech[Inclusive] was born. 
 
Emily Drier, co-founder of Tech[Inclusive], met Bergman through GDI and had similar concerns with that organization. 
 
“I remember the feeling of being out of the loop and not feeling connected. I wanted to truly help others, because I know the feeling of being the only one,” Drier says. 
 Tech[Inclusive] co-founder Emily Drier.
Bergman’s main goal is to see the workplace become more inclusive, not just for women but for all marginalized groups. She says companies need to not just mentor people from diverse backgrounds but also offer internships and sponsor them to advance into leadership roles
 
“Diversity is just a number. Inclusivity is the goal,” Bergman says. “… Inclusive to me means going to work and feeling comfortable in that environment.”
 
Tech[Inclusive] offers a variety of professional opportunities for people to learn to code. One event, called Code and Coffee, is a monthly opportunity for people to practice skills, meet new friends, and network with like-minded people. Code and Coffee events are relaxed and informal. 
 
Tech[Inclusive] also offers a variety of professional development classes such as Introduction to Coding, A Day in the Life of a programmer, and other “bootcamp” classes that get participants started on writing code with no prior experience.
 
“We offer safe learning opportunities and networking events,” Bergman says. “All are welcome regardless of their skill level or background.”
 
Drier says it’s important to Tech[Inclusive] organizers to create a safe space for people to learn with a zero-harassment policy. She speaks with pride of Tech[Inclusive]’s diverse membership, which includes nearly 1,000 people of a range of identities. 
 
“You can’t just say you are diverse,” Drier says. “You have to take action.”
 
Jacquelyn Olson, Tech [Inclusive] event organizer, left her job as a professional cook to work in the tech industry. Pursuing a career that was “at the intersection of creativity and technology,” web design caught her eye. She took online coding tutorials, did some research on front-end web development – and also discovered a supportive community in Tech[Inclusive].
Tech[Inclusive] event organizer Jacquelyn Olson. 
“I had discovered my passion for tech and a group of people to share it with,” Olson says. “… Tech[Inclusive] created a welcoming environment where people can just peek in without any judgement. They create this wonderful space to be able to explore.”
 
Bergman says that “welcoming environment” is exactly what Tech[Inclusive] aims to offer all its members, regardless of their technical skills.
 
“There are all types of tech careers that are not considered to be technical,” she says. “Project managers, instructional designers, and other people can be placed in a tech field. All are welcomed and encouraged to come learn about the many facets of the tech industry.”
 
Additional information is available in the Tech[Inclusive] Meetup group. A list of Tech[Inclusive] events is available here.

Monica Hickson is a freelance writer currently based in Ypsilanti. 

All photos by Doug Coombe.