Photo caption: From left to right, Selenis Leguisamon of AWS, Donnie Hale of FMU, and Toia Santamarina of GET Cities Miami
Catch up quick: The Miami Tech Works Tech Talent Coalition officially launched on February 17 with a kick-off meeting attended by more than 125 local business, academic, and support partners who engaged in a workshop related to the local tech talent pipeline. From that, four workgroups were formed, which have started meeting: Inclusive Tech Talent Pipeline, Emerging Talent, Tech Skills Gap, and Small Business Capacity Building. Earlier this month, we learned more about the Emerging Talent workgroup [read it here].
Today, we are meeting some of the leaders in the Inclusive Tech Talent Pipeline Group. This workgroup is focused on expanding opportunities to recruit, onboard and retain non-traditional talent pools from Miami’s rich diverse talent pool.
Selenis Leguisamon is an Enterprise Account Executive with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and works with a portfolio of enterprise customers in South Florida to assist them with growth strategy and digital innovation. Previously she was with IBM for 15 years and this Dominican Republic native is also a Florida International University alumnus in computer engineering.
Leguisamon was attracted to Miami Tech Works’ mission through her work with Miami Dade College and the AWS Academy, where she had been helping to prepare MDC faculty and create curriculums around cloud computing, which was very much aligned towards the needs of the market. “I love that Miami Dade College is very reactive to what’s going on in the industry and we are able to upskill students on what is in need in the market.”
But one of the challenges she found is that students were sometimes still not able to get the jobs because employers were asking for years of experience or a four-year degree. “Immigrants often have a degree from their country, but it doesn’t qualify here. Just because they don’t have a traditional four-year degree, we’re leaving on the table many great candidates that could do a great job. They’re not traditional, but they’re equally as qualified,” Leguisamon says.
Through AWS, Leguisamon collaborated with MDC on the hiring process and job descriptions. “We were working internally to make it more inclusive. Obviously AWS has a very rigid hiring process, but the students were so well prepared we were able to have a lot of success.”
She brought up these experiences during the Inclusive Tech Talent Pipeline Group meeting, and others in the workgroup also shared what has worked and didn’t work in their efforts to build diverse teams. But the group’s work is only just beginning.
What would success look like to Leguisamon? “Success is changing the narrative. We hear a lot of companies say there’s no local talent in technology here in Miami. Success is delivering the messaging worldwide that we have local talent and they have the capability and the talent to work for major companies and success is also for companies to come to Miami and thrive here.”
Donnie Hale is Executive Director for Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships at Florida Memorial University, the only HBCU in South Florida. The job entails “really thinking about our role the HBCU plays in the community, but also in the tech space in South Florida, and how to advance opportunities for black and brown people throughout South Florida.” He’s held the FMU position for a year and a half, and he previously worked as an educational leader at the University of Central Florida and FIU.
Hale says the Tech Talent Coalition allows higher ed, nonprofits and conveners to work together to understand what are the needs of the tech space but it also allows tech companies opportunities to understand what’s happening within the greater community, too. At times when people don’t communicate, it’s really hard to be consistent and make sure the community is inclusive and that all are involved, he says. “Sometimes people have not been invited to the conversation. How do you create inclusivity if voices are excluded?”
The outcomes Hale would most like to see are more training programs, such as certificate programs, that will help people to enter tech and grow in the field because “if you don’t have a language for tech, you don’t know where to begin.” He also hopes the Tech Talent Coalition helps new companies understand diversity, equity and inclusion, so that when they’re doing their hiring practices, they’re more intentional around particular groups. And lastly, he says, he’d like to see the community’s inclusivity starting young, such as engaging high schools and creating training opportunities for these students.
Indeed, increasing access to tech is critical, Hale says.
“I think about Overtown, Liberty City, Little Haiti, Miami Gardens and local youth centers and adult learning centers. I’d like to see programs in those areas because sometimes transportation can be an issue,” says Hale. “How do we train people in those places? Are there jobs located in these areas where people have access?”
Hale is all-in on this effort. “I want to make sure that I can be a vehicle or use my voice to support other people.” As for this coalition’s work, he says, “I’m definitely expecting greatness.”
Toia Santamarina is the Miami Managing Director of GET Cities, a nonprofit laser-focused on gender equity in tech, and she is co-chairing this workgroup along with Leguisamon. She said she was attracted to this workgroup because it can bring together all the relevant decision makers in the tech community with the capacity, the influence, and the resources to hire local talent. “I love the fact that we can work together over the 12 weeks to put into practice real policies to make sure that these companies hire local talent.”
The goals for the workgroup include first understanding the challenges in building diverse teams so they can create an action plan. The second goal is conveying why this work matters: “This is way beyond being committed to diversity, it’s about the business case for diversity, and what happens when you have a diverse team in terms of access to innovation, access to markets, problem solving,” she says. And the third goal will be talent retention long after the offer letter goes out. “We want to build diverse teams but we also want for these companies to build an inclusive culture. We want to ensure that our workplaces are places that help people feel that they belong so they can thrive as an employee and be promoted, no matter who they are.”
“It’s not just about how you draft job description or carry out interviews so everyone feels welcome. It is also about the company’s culture that needs to speak the same language that you are putting in your human resource efforts,” Santamarina says.
What would success look like to Santamarina? “We want to make sure that these employers are committed to participate in hiring tech talent from Miami. If we see in a couple of years that the teams we have from these companies are the vast majority local people with diverse backgrounds, then I think we did a great job.”
Miami Tech Works Tech Talent Coalition can ensure the community is more connected. “If we support each other and we focus toward the same goals, I think the community will be stronger.” To that she adds, “it will be wonderful for more companies to join our work group.”
Companies can sign up for the Inclusive Tech Talent Group or one of the other workgroups here.
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