Diversity, equity and inclusion remain top of mind for the Albany region’s business leaders — particularly following national protests against racism and police brutality.
An Albany Business Review analysis concluded there is a lot more work that needs to be done to get the region to a more equitable place. A big part of the obstacle is that the traditional ways companies find and hire employees do not reach everyone.
We spoke with three executives devoted to building better talent pipelines from pre-K to adulthood about where this change can start.
Annmarie Lanesey, founder and CEO of AlbanyCanCode
Lanesey started the nonprofit software boot camp AlbanyCanCode because she saw a need for more workers from nontraditional backgrounds in the tech field.
The issue, Lanesey said, was that companies needed to change their perception of talent and who may have it.
“Our mission says it in black and white, to create a more diverse tech pipeline in the Capital Region. To invite more women, more people of color, more people from challenging economic backgrounds to the table,” Lanesey said. “For me, one of the most impressive things about our work is employers’ commitment to this work.”
In the four years since Lanesey started the nonprofit it has provided training to more than 200 adults, and at least 47 alumni have been hired in the region. Some of those students have ended up with apprenticeships or jobs at companies such as Accenture, Goldman Sachs, Troy Web Consulting and MVP Healthcare.
“More now than four years ago, people are questioning if there is a reason to have a degree required for many of these jobs,” Lanesey said. “There’s a large group of people in the Capital Region who don’t have degrees. That’s the most opportune group of people in our country and our economy. That doesn’t mean they don’t have skills. They have immense potential.”
But there is more work to be done, especially when it comes to equal pay.
“We’ve been tracking our data and seeing some trends. One is we’re seeing students of color going through our programs are having one of the largest increase in wages,” Lanesey said. “We know we need to do more — still seeing women going into the workforce lagging and starting at lower salaries than where they could be.”
John Robinson, founder and CEO of Our Ability Inc.
Robinson worked in media sales before deciding 10 years ago to start Our Ability, which is dedicated to connecting individuals with disabilities toward education and employment through mentoring, workshops, public speaking as well as job placement.
Today, the organization works with about 45 companies in New York state that are interested in adding individuals with disabilities into their workforce.
“Our mission is to lower the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities from 70%,” Robinson said. “When businesses are interested in being inclusive our goal is to get those businesses to add individuals with disabilities to that inclusiveness.”
Something Robinson hears a lot is: “We know we’re not as far along as other companies but,” and that’s when he knows a company is committed to creating a more inclusive workplace.
“I can alleviate their fears and answer their questions and educate them around different disabilities and train individuals for those jobs,” Robinson said.
The organization recently received a New York state grant to train 300 individuals virtually toward specific jobs at Price Chopper, KeyBank, M&T Bank and other companies.
“The best thing to know is there is never a bad time. There is an almost unlimited talent pool. There are 1.1 million New Yorkers upstate with a disability who are working age,” Robinson said. “If a business has a need, we can figure out a solution and we would love to do that.”
Noelene Smith, executive director of The Baby Institute
Building these talent pipelines can and should start even earlier. It’s something that Noelene Smith recognized as critical when she started The Baby Institute, a free program for pregnant women and parents of children from infancy to age 3 meant to build literacy particularly among low-income, Black kids.
When Smith’s family immigrated from Jamaica to White Plains in Westchester County — one of the richest areas of the country — the first thing she noticed was that the schools had free books, and she committed to making the best of her education.
She eventually attended the University and Albany, and was dismayed to see how many of the local high school students didn’t take their education seriously and eventually dropped out.
“I was doing community organizing around education and started parent advocacy. I would come in to talk to kids about where they are and what they should be doing,” Smith said. “I thought, maybe we can look at helping parents understand what they can empower their children to do. I’m interested in saying to you, ‘Here’s something you need to know: If your child is reading at grade level by third grade they have a much higher rate of being successful.'”
The nine-week Baby Institute program teaches parents about brain development, child development, how to effectively discipline so their child can learn from it and grow, and the importance of reading to kids early on.
In the 10 years since she started the program, Smith has reached more than 500 parents. Her hope is the program can change the outcomes for these kids so they see college and a career as a path for them.
“Kids come in at four years old and they can’t hold a pencil,” Smith said. “It’s building some structure and love for reading and how it feels when you get a high five. It’s that kind of thing — how do you make sure everyone has an opportunity?”