BOSTON - From law school hopeful to tech company CEO, Melissa James grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Milton to immigrant parents.
She was the first in her family to go to college, but the thought of graduating during the recession with a law school debt sent James stumbling into tech instead. She landed a position at startup Sample-6. The company took a chance on her.
"I remember my first day at Sample 6. He handed me an unlimited Amex and keys to the office and literally said, don't burn it down," James said. "And here I was at 21 years old going what the heck?! What are you doing giving me this unlimited Amex?! How do you know I'm not going to buy a Bentley with it?!"
James says she flourished at the small company and when she got an offer to work at Google, she jumped at the chance. But when she leveled up at Google in their diversity and inclusion office, her dreams crashed. She says the hiring process was focused more on Ivy League recruits than diversity.
“Ultimately, I started to wonder about our hiring process," James said. "Are we doing this the right way?”
Google reported only 2.5 percent of its U.S. employees are black, 3.6 percent are latinx, and just 30 percent are women. James decided to fix that and Tech Connection was born. Using her own personal experience -- inspired by other entrepreneurs of color -- she developed a hiring process that puts the emphasis on relevant experience and the in-person interview to connect companies to diverse tech employees.
"There's actually 35 different dimensions of diversity that you cannot see. And I think it's just really important that when we say we want diversity of thought, we need to be thoughtful on how we engage those other components of diversity as we go through the hiring process,“ James said. According to a National Urban League report, companies like Uber, Twitter, and Facebook have fewer than 3 percent of tech workers identify as black.
Currently, black and Latinx workers represent just 15 percent of the workforce in computing and 12 percent in engineering.
Tech Connection has placed hundreds of diverse candidates since its founding and James credits her ability to apply a fresh outlook to an old problem: lack of diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
"We're no longer just tolerating the things that we see," James said. "And what I see is people being like, no, I want to be in charge of my career. I want to be happy in want I do. I want work-life balance and what it means for me and I'm willing to get it at any means possible."
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