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Maryland Tech Council initiative aims to make the industry more inclusive

Technology historically has contributed to problems of unequal access to important elements of modern life, says Maryland Tech Council CEO Martin Rosendale. (Submitted Photo)

Technology historically has contributed to problems of unequal access to important elements of modern life, says Maryland Tech Council CEO Martin Rosendale. (Submitted Photo)

A new diversity, equity and inclusion initiative from the Maryland Tech Council aims to bring together thinkers and leaders from the state’s technology community to solve problems related to equity and diversity.

The initiative, dubbed the Technology Inclusivity Initiative, is headed by Stacey Smith, former CEO of CAMI, and a steering committee composed of seven leaders within the technology industry in Maryland. The initiative’s next step will be to convene industry partners in five parts of Maryland: Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore, the Greater Baltimore region, Southern Maryland and the Washington metro area.

From there, those partners will work towards finding solutions to make the state’s technology ecosystem more inclusive — as well as finding ways technology itself can facilitate change.

“When the conversation around inclusivity and equity escalated last year, I wasn’t sure what role an industry trade association should play in that effort,” said Martin Rosendale, CEO of the Maryland Tech Council. “I began talking with my board members, my members, other people I considered to be very thoughtful, very mission-oriented … and in those conversations what came out of it was that technology, historically, has contributed to the problem.”

He cited technologies like broadband internet, digital payment options, smartphones and credit scores — all nearly-impossible-to-avoid elements of modern life — as pieces of technology that can shut people out of the economy if they do not have access to them.

Many of these divides have been exacerbated by the pandemic, with governments across the nation, including Maryland’s, seeking ways to bridge the “digital divide” that has made it difficult for students in rural areas, as well as those whose families’ can’t afford internet access, to attend their virtual classes.

According to research conducted by the Abell Foundation, only about 32% of lower-income households in Baltimore have broadband in their homes.

Rosendale hopes that the conversations that come out of this initiative will help the technology industry in Maryland better understand how to bridge those gaps.

The initiative has already tapped some of the many innovators in the state working to develop solutions to these issues. Winston Philip, CEO of Sequivalent and one of the steering committee members, for example, has partnered with Amazon and other organizations to develop technology to help homeless people store their documents in a digital, accessible and secure format.

“Part of the technology needs are not just the bright ideas, but the usable ideas. What would the population be comfortable using?” he said of the project during the Technology Inclusivity Initiative’s inaugural event on Tuesday, a panel discussion entitled “The Highs and Lows of a High-Tech Maryland: Setting the Stage for Workplace & Socioeconomic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”

The event’s speakers explained data about Maryland’s digital divide and highlighted a number of other diversity and inclusion initiatives that have proven successful at companies throughout the state.

The initiative will also look at workforce development issues to address workforce shortages within the life sciences and biotechnology sectors while simultaneously increasing the diversity of workers in those fields.

“We are beginning to see workforce issues in both tech and life sciences prepandemic,” Rosendale said. “The pandemic, of course, created a (workforce shortage) because people went home, they locked down because of the pandemic and, as we’re emerging from the pandemic, two things are happening. People aren’t coming back at the pace we expected them to, and the number of jobs is continuing to grow at a rapid pace.”

The Maryland Tech Council will be looking both for partners interested in participating in the initiative as well as companies whose work the organization can promote and uplift.

“We want to amplify the work that you’re already doing,” said LaToya Staten, strategic projects specialist for Fearless and the chair of the initiative’s steering committee, during the panel discussion. “And we’re intentional. We’re going to activate solutions within the state, and we are going to be intentional about our work.”

Those who wish to get involved are encouraged to reach out to any of the committee members — Staten, Philip, Rosendale, David Tohn, CEO of BTS Software Solutions, Linda Singh, CEO of Kaleidoscope Affect, Troy LeMaile-Stovall, CEO of TEDCO, and Vennard Wright, CEO of Wave Welcome.

The initiative’s work will culminate in a summit during National Diversity Month next April, where the team will share and discuss best practices related to diversity and equity in technology.