Hundreds of professionals expected at MN's first hosting of Blacks in Technology Conference

A conference aimed at increasing the number of jobs for black men and women in the tech field opens in the Twin Cities Thursday.

The group, Blacks in Technology, will host its first national conference in Minnesota, to coincide with Twin Cities Startup Week. More than 700 professionals from across the country are expected to attend.

• July: Twin Cities beats out Silicon Valley to woo black tech conference

Sharon Kennedy Vickers, the chief information officer for the city of St. Paul, said the choice of location was an intentional effort to heighten the visibility of black people in the technology.

"The Twin Cities has a long history of innovation and this is an opportunity to highlight and focus on that," Vickers said, "and also there is a shortage of talent here locally in the Twin Cities and nationally."

Vickers hopes the conference will help corporations find diverse talent, what Vickers called "a business imperative."

But even if companies diversify workforces, their jobs are not done.

"I do not believe that it is a pipeline issue. I believe that it is an issue of retention," Vickers said. "It is making sure that we have inclusive spaces in which individuals of color feel welcome and have opportunity to grow, advance and thrive."

Vickers hopes the conference will allow people to share their experiences and the barriers to advancement, and perhaps lead to culture change in the tech field. And visiting professionals may see Minnesota in a new light.

"It is cold and white, but it has been very good for me, my family and my career," Vickers said.

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