This is another installment in our “3 Questions” series contributed by subject matter experts throughout the tech community in Indiana. This series takes complex tech topics and explains them in easy-to-understand ways without the dense jargon so every reader can learn a little bit more about our industry.

Dewand Neely
COO, Eleven Fifty Academy
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is more than a trending hashtag. Collectively we are more aware of the social, education, and economic inequities that permeate our society in regards to people of color and unfortunately, no where is it more stark than in the tech sector.

The good news is that companies are committing to moving the needle yet many do not know where to begin.

What are the steps needed to implement a solid, internal DEI process?

Look internally at your culture. Do your employees feel valued and mission-driven? The first step to take a good look at your team and request feedback on your culture. If your existing employees do not feel valued nor have clarity on the mission and purpose of your company, then you start there. A challenge for many companies during this pandemic has been to accurately express their culture in a virtual work environment. Expressing culture remotely is easy if it was already engrained.

You have a strong culture, now what?

Finding and removing barriers to entry is the responsibility of all of us in the tech space. When employees feel valued and an integral part of your team, they are driven to do more because you facilitate them to be more. How diverse is your existing team? Does your company honor the holidays that your employees celebrate? Is there cultural sensitivity and respect given to multi-cultural individuals? Taking a vested interest in a team members from a holistic perspective is important. This approach should be all the way up the leadership ladder. This effort can’t just be a subset of employees that show support and interest or assign a diversity committee to address this. “Embedded” in culture means just that. If someone of color suspects that they need to assimilate instead of being mentored into a role, then you have some gaps in your culture.

Where to find qualified candidates to expand a team?

Finding new team members with the right skills can be a challenge. It’s easy to buy new hires who have the skillset, but what about building a team instead of buying one? Through apprenticeships and strategic onboarding processes, it is possible to strengthen an inclusive team via growth by investing in new hires who possess the skillset to do the job.

Eleven Fifty Academy works with employers to make sure our curriculum is meeting the needs of the tech workforce. We could be considered an employment agency due to our strong Career Services division, who match our graduates with their ideal employment opportunities, even during a pandemic. Eleven Fifty is not only concerned with instructing the most relevant tech skills, we are focused on outcomes and placements of our graduates. Their success is our success.

There is a shortage of tech talent. We (Eleven Fifty) are definitely part of the solution to this conundrum. Eleven Fifty Academy’s curriculum is agile and we work with our Advisory Board to meet the industry needs and demands. Our corporate partners share consistent feedback that in addition to coding or cybersecurity skillsets, they want workers to be prepared for work-ready environments. We instruct the soft skills that our corporate partners are asking for. Graduates of our academy are ready to function as part of a team in an office environment. Our goal is to transform lives, and by working with our students to prepare them for engaging in a meaningful career is how we accomplish this.

When it comes to tech workforce development, it’s about creating a well-rounded person, not just creating tech geeks. Teaching soft skills helps set up our students for success.

More About Dewand Neely
Dewand is focused on the Eleven Fifty Academy’s mission of transforming individuals and communities through the discovery of purpose, development of values, immersive relevant 21st century skill training, and thoughtful community programs.

Prior to joining the Academy, Neely spent 15 years serving in State Government, with the last 4 years of his state tenure as Director of the Indiana Office of Technology and the State Chief Information Officer. He had been appointed by both Governor Mike Pence and Governor Eric Holcomb to the role as Indiana’s CIO. He has held executive committee and director roles on the board for the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and served as an external advisory board member for the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security. He is currently a foundation board member for Goodwill. Neely received his undergraduate degree from Purdue University’s School of Technology and his MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.