It’s been a while since we’ve spoken about what OfferZen Foundation, OfferZen’s not-for-profit, has been up to. Over the last few months, we published the Tech Inclusion report, gathering insight from various members of our community on the topics of skills development, work readiness and thriving at work. We also invited people to continue those conversations with our discussion evenings in Cape Town and Johannesburg. What I hope to share with this update is what I’ve learned in that time, and how all of that feeds into the work OfferZen Foundation will do with a community of practice.
The lessons we’ve learned with the work we’ve done so far have aligned into some new and exciting directions for OfferZen Foundation, one of which will take the form of putting together a community of practice.
Before I explain that, however, I’d like to take a step back to set the scene of what we’ve done up until now, and how that feeds into the work we’re doing going forward.
Of the lessons from these conversations, one of the biggest has been the importance of creating the surface area for an honest conversation about the challenges around diversity in the tech industry. So often we debate the imperative work required to enable action, before taking a moment to have an honest - and often uncomfortable - discussion about why these challenges exist in the first place.
- Our country’s history of structural inequality means that some people have less access and means to take opportunities.
- Acknowledging and addressing these structural issues is complicated, easy to get wrong, and not something we’re used to doing.
How we got here
The Tech Inclusion Report
In early April, we released the Tech Inclusion Report, as a collection of stories that shine a light on the many aspects involved when it comes to adequately addressing the issue of tech inclusion in South Africa. The themes included: skills development, work readiness, and thriving at work. What struck me was the amount of work being done in various pockets, and the shared desire to continue exploring those themes through driving action.
So, once we published the report, it felt important to open up the conversation to the rest of the community. We hosted two discussion evenings, one in Cape Town and the other in Johannesburg, to provide that opportunity.
Cape Town: Discussing work-readiness
At our first discussion evening, we explored the question of where the responsibility falls in training the people entering the tech world in both the technical and softer skills they need to deliver value at work. What came out of this discussion was that there isn’t a consensus within the industry on what these work readiness requirements are, and whose responsibility it is to ‘teach’ them.
Johannesburg: Discussing the skills gap
This discussion reflected very similar sentiments: The conversation explored how hiring more diverse talent is one solution towards closing the software skills gap, but it remains unclear how we as a community can create a workplace environment in which people from diverse backgrounds can work and thrive.
All-in-all, while both discussions were thought-provoking and attendees appreciated the discussion space, I’m wary of where the potential ends for “good conversation” to initiate real action.
If addressing diversity and inclusion in tech is as complex as we’ve seen in our work thus far, then it means we need to do more than ‘just talk’.
Communities of practice: More than “just talking”
If we’re not just talking, we need to be doing something. In the social sciences, this collective work is well documented as communities of practice. While this same language hasn’t necessarily been used in the tech ecosystem, the same sentiment of working together has come up in the work we’ve done so far time and again.
This makes me think that there is an appetite for collaborative action. In this sense, people with a common challenge or interest come together and acknowledge that it is in our best interest as a community to initiate change together.
In that way, our next step will bring together founding members of a community group. Together, we’ll identify the challenges they’re facing when it comes to being more diverse and inclusive within their organisations.
Initially, this community group will be focussed on companies who are looking to improve racial and gender diversity within their tech teams. As OfferZen Foundation, we’ll work with those companies by:
- Mapping a path to set up their teams to thrive: In order to reach the goal of a thriving, racially and gender diverse tech team, we first have to understand what needs to be achieved. This roadmap is made up of outcomes areas, which include:
- ensuring that a diverse pool of talent exists,
- ensuring that hiring supports diversity,
- enabling tech teams to prioritise inclusivity,
- ensuring that ongoing employee development supports diversity, and
- enabling an organisational culture that authentically supports diversity.
- Providing them with tools: With each area of the roadmap, there needs to be a clear way to reach that point. These activities/initiatives are suggested by the community based on what the ‘need’ is.
- Helping them work with others to do so: Once we’ve identified what the roadmap looks like, and how we reach those points (ie. the tools), OfferZen Foundation will be able to bring together the people/organisations that we need at the table.
This founding community group will be the early adopters that help build and test those tools. Over time, this community group will grow and include a range of stakeholders that can work cross-functionally to affect the change we need as a community.
While we continue the work of OfferZen Foundation, catch up with what you’ve missed by having a look at our Tech Inclusion Report, our Cape Town discussion evening, and our Johannesburg discussion evenings.
Tumi Sineke is Head of OfferZen Foundation, OfferZen’s not-for-profit. She’s worn many hats, including customer experience, account management, product training and implementation, as well as team coordination. The common thread in those roles is what motivates her every day: working closely with people to help them overcome a challenge. When she looks back on her career one day, she’ll know she has been successful when she’s led and implemented programs at scale that have made a positive impact on people’s lives.