As businesses increasingly look to reflect the demographics of their customers, The Mainframe could play a key role.
The Mainframe is a Tampa Bay-based initiative to support the growth of black technologists, professionals, innovators and entrepreneurs throughout Florida, said James Faison, organizer of the program.
The Mainframe hosts skill-building workshops and events, links entrepreneurs to mentorship and funding opportunities, and connects corporate employers to a local data base of black tech talent.
“Most corporations want to have a sense of relatability to their clientele,” Faison said. “With diversity — not just black tech talent, but all sorts of demographics and beliefs and backgrounds — you want to have a landscape that is truly reflective of the community.”
The Mainframe is a new program; the first event was held over the summer, and a second one is set for Oct. 25 at Microsoft’s office in Tampa. While designed to support blacks in technology, anyone can attend, Faison said. Register here.
Faison, a 12-year insurance professional, launched The Mainframe after noticing how African-Americans were often missing at the tech-related events and meetups he attended.
“I thought that if I’m feeling this way, there have to be others who are working in this space or interested in this space who think this as well,” he said.
Faison thought 20 or 25 people would show up for the first event in late June. But as he talked to people, and news about the event spread mostly by word of mouth, he got 125 RSVPs, and 70 people attended.
Faison said the turnout gives credence to findings by Brookings Institution that Tampa and St. Petersburg have a relatively high concentration of black residents with engineering and science degrees. The Brookings study showed that 32.9 percent of the 8,055 African Americans with a bachelor’s degree in Tampa have science or engineering degrees. In St. Petersburg, 26.8 percent of African Americans with a bachelor’s degree hold degrees in science or engineering.
As employers, especially tech companies, demand workers with science, technology, engineering and math skills, the relatively high number of African Americans locally with that knowledge is an asset for companies in the area, Brookings said.
“Companies with diverse staff will produce better products because they can draw on diverse perspectives to meet the demands of a diversifying marketplace. The places where these companies are located will attract higher-quality, diverse talent that draws investment and accelerates business growth.”
Black workers represent more than 12 percent of the overall workforce in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but only seven percent of the U.S. high-tech workforce, Bloomberg reported in June. Black tech workers also make less money than white tech workers, TechCrunch said.
“The Mainframe has the potential to inspire fresh talent to enter tech fields; provide them an inclusive, safe environment to support each other; and build the necessary connective tissue between individuals, companies and organization to allow black talent to fill an increasing number of our region’s open positions,” said Daniel James Scott, co-executive director of Tampa Bay Tech.
The Mainframe’s overall goal is to bring together startup founders and engaged citizens who want to see Tampa Bay’s black tech ecosystem move forward, Faison said. “There is a deficit of knowledge in what is actually happening in the black tech entrepreneurial community. We want to fill in the gap and leverage what we’re learning to really create something that represents the best of what Tampa Bay area should be.”