Technology helping to increase diversity, inclusion and equity in Corporate America seems like a given. Still, there are those who would rather ignore data that shows the benefits of practicing equality when hiring. For Hampton University alum, Leon Burns, implementing data modules has allowed him and his team to successfully help prove variation strategies for government contract bids. What does this all mean? We caught up with the tech-savvy entrepreneur to find out.
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For those of us who are technologically challenged, please explain what it is you do and how it has benefited DEI initiatives across Corporate America.
Currently, I am President and Chief Executive Officer of Open Technology Group, Inc. (OTG), a small business providing information technology services to federal government clients. OTG specializes in Information Technology “IT “infrastructure support including help desk, data center, and network services as well as asset management support that includes warehousing, configuration, data migration, and deployment services.
Since being named president, I have been able to provide opportunities to marginalized groups of people in a field that seldom aids people of color in reaching their goals and ascending in the field. My initiatives begin with covering entry-level IT certification costs and covering 75% of other IT certifications related to the project. I am also committed to promoting from within, and offering monetary incentives for diverse professional development achievements.
You have entered into a space that not many Black men know even existed, talk about your upbringing and how you saw this technology field as an opportunity to benefit your careers as well as your community.
Throughout my childhood, I watched my dad troubleshoot machines and programs at a high level. These initial observations heightened my attraction to technology and made me eager to explore the field independently. Being raised with technology in the home benefits me immensely. As I progressed through K-12 schools, I was amazed by how many peers and instructors who were not afforded the same opportunity were hesitant to utilize computers to their highest capacity.
Simple things to me whether it was adjusting settings to minor programming computers, seemed to be a mystery to a large part of my community. As I grew older, I knew there would always be a niche in the market for technologically sound people and if I were to become a manager in IT, I would be able to help guide and mentor others within my community on the best ways to further their career in the field.
Talk about how Hampton shaped who you have become personally and professionally.
Going to Hampton was undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life. I grew to love Black culture more than I had ever done before, but in learning the culture I soon realized how it differed from different regions in the country. I am so grateful for those experiences and am thankful to say that I made lifelong friends. Professionally speaking, it prepared me for the early stages of my career and what many people would consider the real world. By that I mean the importance of integrity, networking and always being prepared. Hampton’s unique underdog perspective created a desire in me to always be the best possible candidate for whatever the job was at hand and further stressed the importance of reaching back to help others.
You became a big brother during your time at the university, why was that important to you and what would you say for other Black men, and why should they get involved in such mentorship opportunities?
Growing up as an only child forced me to experience many of life’s hard lessons firsthand. I often envied the wisdom that my peers had that was passed to them by their older siblings. I promised myself that if I were ever to have a younger sibling, I would do everything in my power to not only share wisdom but give them a safe space to grow. Remaining an only child that didn’t stop me from wanting to be an example and mentor to others. It is important for Black men to be involved in such mentorship opportunities because we’re able to reach our youth in ways that other communities are not. I believe that Black men can share life’s perspective uniquely on a multitude of levels. Ranging from career advice, office politics, health, and wellness to family matters. I believe these entities from the eyes of a Black man are invaluable.
Now you believe that collective efforts by diverse populations can make more of a difference in affecting lives than government funding… how so?
Absolutely. Working with people from all different backgrounds, whether that be from Korea, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, or Bolivia, has taught me a vast number of ways that one can approach any feat within the workplace from a technical standpoint. Like medicine, while the core concepts remain the same, different regions of the world teach technicians how to approach the same problems differently. Collectively using these methodologies has allowed my team to overcome a bevy of new challenges within government entities ranging from the Department of Treasury BEP, and State Department to the Food and Drug Administration. Ultimately, the expansion of our funding was based on the additional areas of need that we were able to uncover that stemmed from the unique perspectives of our diverse team.
How can the community keep Corporate America's pledge for DEI as a priority and not just social media posts and talking points?
Action. Personally, I feel that diversity and inclusion are huge factors that can easily be masked in Corporate America to fill quotas and marketing agendas. The most impactful pledge falls under equity and whether a company is willing to put its team members in a position of success in and outside of the workplace. The things that I’m incorporating such as in-house promoting, certification funding and resume revamping do just that. Assisting team members in their pursuit of professional credentials, abiding by equity pay reviews and creating a culture that cultivates maximizing one’s potential is what makes the real difference in the fight for equality and the heightening of one’s socio-economic status.
What systems can corporations put in place in order to create more diverse spaces?
The best system that a corporation can put into place to create a more diverse space is to either designate a team that’s dedicated to ensuring a diverse workspace or hire an outside organization to hold the corporation accountable. In order to commit to diversity, the first step is to acknowledge unconscious bias, that being said it is essential for companies to realize that there are always things that can be done better to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for people from all walks of life.
What is next for you and your entrepreneurial journey?
My plan is to continue to lead Open Technology Group into the future by expanding our clientele within the federal government. Once that is accomplished, I plan to build a curriculum for a data analytics program for Hampton University. The field of data analytics is one of my passions and how I started my career, however, many HBCUs do not have programs in this relatively new field that’s playing a pivotal part in the IT field at large. Currently, only 3% of African Americans make up the data science market. As technology advances, we’ll need to rely on people to combine statistics with programming and mathematics to provide insight into future decisions. My intent is to diversify these decisions by putting African American students in a position to excel in this field and help shape the future of the world.
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Photo Credit: J. Monroe of Monroe Media