The old boys’ network, he says, has traditionally worked against women and people of colour, but by forging their own networking associations, black IT professionals on both sides of the border are finding strength in numbers.
“”What concepts like BDPA and BITePRO do is redefine the network into something that isn’t a negative,”” Hicks says.
The Greenbelt, Md.-based BDPA and the Toronto-based Black Information Technology eProfessionals (BITePRO) recently entered into a strategic alliance to expand their networking opportunities into each other’s backyards.
For BITePRO, a fledgling organization of 170, the union means access to a wealth of resources, including BDPA’s critical mass and reputation.
“”We saw it as a huge opportunity,”” says BITePRO president Leesa Barnes, a project manager with a large technology company. “”The BDPA gives us the credibility that we’re looking for.””
She says the association with the BDPA, which has been in existence since 1975 and currently has 2,000 members in more than 40 United States chapters, makes it easier to attract new members to BITePRO, which launched in Sept. 2000.
“”We always get questions like, ‘What have you done? What can you do for me?'”” Barnes says, noting that BITePRO is free to join. “”Suddenly, people who were once skeptical, say, ‘Now I want to join.'””
And unlike the old boys’ network, membership in BITePRO is open to people of all backgrounds, provided they support BITePRO’s mission of advancing excellence among black IT professionals. BITePRO has members who are Chinese, Filipino and even white.
The same admissions criteria applies to BDPA, which sees the agreement with BITePRO as a step towards realizing its goal of becoming a global organization. Along with the BITePRO alliance, BDPA has since the beginning of this year also set up similar arrangements with groups in Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia.
“”We wanted to make sure we were looking at ourselves from a global point of view,”” Hicks says, adding that the alliance with BITePRO affords its members networking opportunities when they do business in Canada and vice-versa.
The agreement should also see BDPA exporting into Canada some its community outreach initiatives, including the community technology centres BDPA helps set up in low income U.S. neighbourhoods. With sponsorship from Allstate Insurance Co., BDPA and online tutoring company Homework911.com this week opened a centre in Cleveland with 25 brand new computers. The goal of these programs is to increase interest in and accessibility to IT in the black community. Hicks feels blacks did not benefit enough from the Silicon Valley boom, in part because of the small number of blacks working in IT.
Barnes says the BDPA community technology centres would play well in Canada, where she says companies either don’t see the value in outreach programs or face economic constraints in giving away computers and other technology products. She also says BITePRO would like to extend to Canada BDPA’s Student Internship Program, which in the U.S. has attracted the likes of IBM Global Services, Lucent Technologies ad GE Aircraft Engines.
“”It doesn’t make sense to re-invent the wheel if it already exists,”” Barnes says.