The Early Career Accelerator Program: helping underrepresented talent thrive in tech

Code2040’s VP of programs and Slack’s head of learning and development share the encouraging results of a new initiative

Efforts to hire more diverse talent can often overlook the vital cultural work needed to create an environment that’s inclusive and supportive. Without such work, retention suffers and people of color end up leaving tech.

Finding effective ways to address this is a shared goal of Slack for Good, the social impact arm of Slack, and Code2040, a Bay Area nonprofit committed to racial equity in tech. Since 2014, Code2040 has been partnering with Slack to help recruit underrepresented talent for internships, but in early 2017, Slack for Good’s director, Deepti Rohatgi, asked Code2040’s vice president of programs, Mimi Fox Melton, “What else can we do to make a difference?”

Together, Code2040 and Slack’s learning and development team came up with the Early Career Accelerator Program (ECAP), aimed at fostering belonging and long-term success for Black and Latinx tech professionals in the first or second year of their career.

Ensuring equity for people of color requires an intentional commitment. This pilot program is a first step in understanding what that commitment looks like, and how it can look in the future as we learn from our participants’ experiences.

ECAP in action

We went into the planning and execution of ECAP with a goal of not only making a substantive impact on the participants’ careers but also providing opportunities for feedback so we could improve it. The five-month program serves as a supplemental onboarding to support new hires in various tech companies through the beginning leg of their professional journey. It creates the space for participants to spend time together, share their experiences in tech, and find tactical solutions to the professional and cultural roadblocks they face.

By participating in ECAP, Black and Latinx technologists had the opportunity to start forming the community necessary to thrive in tech. As one participant said, “I didn’t know if I would fit in or find people who shared my struggles here, but I was wonderfully surprised. All the events had amazing advice from guests, the other members were kind and thoughtful, and I felt more empowered with every meeting.”

The results

While it’s too early to measure the long-term effects of the program on our participants’ careers, we can measure some key confidence indicators that support building on ECAP’s approach. Our first cohort reported a significant difference in their ability to advocate for themselves before and after the program—16% before, compared with 94% after. They also reported feeling more empowered to provide feedback to their managers and colleagues—26% before and 94% after. And whereas 42% felt a sense of belonging in their workplace prior to the program, 83% reported feeling a sense of belonging after.

Our takeaways

Our first cohort shed light on some solutions employers can implement to foster belonging:

  • Make the implicit explicit: A company’s cultural core (norms, values, power center) may seem like second nature to some, but for new employees coming from cultures that often aren’t represented in the tech industry, these norms and expectations may be unfamiliar and unclear.
  • Give concrete guidance: It’s important that new grads receive concrete tools to set them up for success in their new roles. For example, if a company values giving and receiving feedback, then new employees should be given clear examples of exactly what that looks like and given the space to practice.
  • Build an onboarding program: Especially for recent grads, starting a new full-time job can feel like jumping headfirst into a scary abyss. Creating programming to introduce new team members to company practices, systems and norms is key to ensuring a solid foundation for employee satisfaction and sustainability.

These early findings are just the beginning and only a small part of what we can do to effect long-term, systemic change. We look forward to continuing to develop this program together and further building on what we’ve learned so far.

Applications for ECAP 2019 will be available this summer at www.code2040.org and @Code2040. 

Mimi Fox Melton is the vice president of programs at Code2040.

Ariel Hunsberger is the head of learning and development at Slack.

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