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Extolling the Power of a Diverse Workforce at the 2016 Diversity in STEM Summit

Hemant Ramachandra speaking on panel

Even small things can go a long way to creating an inclusive workplace atmosphere, Hemant Ramachandra, who leads PwC Advisory’s Global Digital Technology Solutions Practice, told the audience at Tandon’s 2016 Diversity in STEM Summit. “If there’s a company dinner and you’re in charge of planning it, you might not want to pick the local steakhouse or barbecue place,” he cautioned. “Try to consider that some of your fellow employees might eat only halal or kosher meat. Some might not even eat any meat at all.”

Ramachandra was a member of a panel moderated by Nathan Rubin of AXIS Capital Talent Management on the topic “What’s the Power of a Diverse Workforce?” at the Summit, which was organized by the Office of Student Affairs, under the leadership of Associate Dean Anita Farrington. Also on the panel were Darryl Jones, the executive vice president of Implant Sciences; and Cindy Joseph, who leads Campus and Inclusion & Diversity Recruiting for Accenture.

Each panel member had sage advice — find a mentor who understands your strengths and struggles, know which slights can be ignored and which must be addressed firmly — as well as tales drawn from their own careers. Joseph, for example, told of being the only woman of color in her department at one workplace and realizing that everyone was socializing on the weekends without her. Jones once organized a conference and stood at the door to ensure that each attendee was welcomed appropriately — only to have one man huffily hand him a coat and instruct him to check it. (Jones got a small taste of revenge when he ascended the podium for the keynote speech, which he presented in its entirety while fixing the offender in a steely gaze.) The take-away was that despite such trials, tech careers can be enormously rewarding and are well worth pursuing.

Carlos Ospina

Carlos Ospina

Following a chance for students to network with the panelists, entrepreneurs Carlos Ospina of BotFactory (makers of an innovative all-in-one desktop circuit board printer) and Joe Aranda of goTenna (developers of an off-the-grid communications system) discussed what it is like to launch a company in Brooklyn. Both agreed that the dynamic nature of the borough and access to a large pool of highly skilled and diverse employees made for a winning combination. 

Joe Aranda

Joe Aranda

"The mindset here is totally different than in other places,” Aranda asserted, standing not far from the enormous “Made in Brooklyn” sign adorning the wall of the  MakerSpace. “There’s an emphasis on dreaming building and creating opportunity that allows people with entrepreneurial mindsets to thrive, no matter where they’re from.” (Ospina concurred, noting that he and his co-founders hailed from a variety of countries and cultures but had found common purpose here.)

The Summit concluded with a keynote address by Dot Harris, the director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy — a post for which she was chosen by President Barack Obama. Harris has spent much of her career promoting STEM, particularly for minorities and women. A lack of STEM education hinders economic growth and can even jeopardize national security, she asserts. With experts predicting that by 2040 there will be an enormous gap, with more tech jobs than skilled workers to do them, it’s imperative, participants agreed, for underrepresented minorities to consider STEM careers.

Dot Harris and Dean Anita Farrington

Dot Harris and Dean Anita Farrington

“Following the polarizing outcome of November 9th and our current political climate,” Dean Farrington said, “we need events like this more than ever to remind us that there are strengths in our differences.”