Regular connection to mentors with a shared lived experience has been shown to enhance learners’ experiences. This remains true in the workplace. It cannot be understated how daunting it can be to enter into a work environment in which few people look like you or share a similar educational or socioeconomic background. Apprentices interviewed for this project referenced challenging water cooler conversations in which college pedigree was regularly referenced as well as obstacles associated with being the only Black, Latinx/e, or Indigenous individuals on their team.
Below, we highlight advice from champions at Bitwise Industries, whose team of apprenticeship mentors, managers, and instructors is 70% Black, Latinx/e, or Indegenous and 60% skilled via alternative routes than a bachelor’s degree. Their lived-experience gives them significant empathy for the apprentices they work with. While your tech company may not have these high levels of demographic diversity in its existing workforce, the Bitwise case presents a north star to move towards internally or via external partnerships. Check out our guidelines below:
1. Put apprentices on teams with strong mentorship culture, led by technical managers with a shared lived-experience as the apprentice (whenever possible). Again this is not always possible, chemistry between people is hard to predict, and not all managers or mentors who share a lived experience with apprentices are guaranteed how to engage them with cultural competency (hence the need for DEIB training for all).
Still, apprentices interviewed for this project indicated that having managers, mentors, and teammates with a shared lived experience inspired them to see that their advancement and success at the company was possible. Regardless of their background, ensure all managers gain empathy, in their pre-training and preparation, for the imposter syndrome that surfaces among underrepresented apprentices who feel they’re in constant “trial mode” for the duration of the apprenticeship.
2. For programs with few to no team members with a shared lived experience as underrepresented apprentices, consider the following interventions:
- Responsibly engage ERG members to mentor apprentices. Responsibly connect apprentices to employee resource group (ERG) members from other areas of your organization to share non-technical advice on how to navigate the company as an underrepresented individual. Tips for responsibly engaging ERG members for mentorship are in the tool section below.
- Partner with external organizations to provide culturally-competent mentorship. If your company is still building a more diverse workforce or does not yet have mature ERG groups, which takes time, you can partner with external organizations in local tech ecosystems for support connecting to technical and non-technical mentors with a shared lived experience. Organizations like DevColor, LTX Connect, or Native Talent in Tech offer a good place to start.
- Invite apprentice program alumni who convert and advance to serve as mentors or teaching assistants (TAs). Apprentice alumni make great TAs in the classroom phase or mentors in the technical team learning phase. In the process, alumni boost their own professional development, while apprentices gain access to mentors with a shared lived experience. Make sure to remain sensitive to the converted apprentice’s bandwidth for such activities and to fairly compensate them for this additional time.
- Build up racial representation across management over time. This may mean dropping degree requirements or adopting other inclusive hiring practices not just for apprentice openings but for other technical roles at more senior levels of the tech unit. Place value in transferrable skills and life experiences when hiring for these roles to help usher in greater diversity and representation, and fairly compensate..
3. Equip apprentices to join ERGs and access additional affinity-based activities. Connect apprentices to affinity groups within the company, such as ERGs in order to equip them to network and build social capital with other individuals from underrepresented groups. We do not recommend designating apprentices as contractors, if it removes their access to internal ERGs (and also if this status will inhibit equitable, living-wage compensation or lack of access to benefits). If ERGs do not exist, continue to build affinity in the apprentice cohort and connect apprentices to external affinity-based partner organizations such as DevColor, LTX Connect, or Native Talent in Tech. Consider sponsoring apprentice attendance of affinity-group-led events in tech such as Afrotech or LTX Quest.
4. Connect apprentices to appropriate wraparound services. Get to know the outside-of-work needs and constraints your apprentices face that affect their work bandwidth, particularly when they are underrepresented or underserved. These needs may be fulfilled directly by your workplace, or via partnership with external non-profits, public service organizations, or startups. Examples of wraparound support that may be provided include:
- Digital connectivity — Access to a laptop and free or reduced cost internet connection
- Transportation — Access to transportation subsidies or public/private transportation
- Housing — Partnerships with city and county housing authorities, connections to resources, temporary housing support
- Counseling — Access to free or reduced cost employee assistance program for apprentices and their family
- Childcare — Access to free or reduced cost employee childcare programs
- Financial Literacy –
5. Ensure apprentices have access to formal channels to voice concerns. Ensure apprentices have a mechanism to formally voice concerns not only with program leadership, but also via human resources channels. With that said, be aware that human resources departments are typically devoted to protecting the interest of the company and may or may not be well-versed in equity and inclusion guidelines. In such cases, consider connecting to independent confidential platforms, such as Techquitable, that help companies create a safe, inclusive and equitable workplace, and help employees report subtle and overt instances of discrimination or harassment with professional guidance.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Tool and best practices co-designed with champions in tech Michelle Skoor and Adriana Soto.
Have questions or comments about the Equitable Tech Apprenticeship Toolkit? Send us a note.