If you met a frustrated Flo Nicolas two years ago and asked her to envision her current reality, she would fervently respond, “I am absolutely shocked.”
Nicolas is tuned in and tapped on, creating her own technology-minded network, equipped to serve underrepresented communities. “I feel like I need to continue to use my platform because people are listening,” says Nicolas, “but who can I align with? Who can I partner with? Who can I collaborate with? Who will help me put together action items that we can push, initiate and get things moving?”
Now, such questions are being answered. Nicolas, a former bankruptcy lawyer turned tech advocate, is celebrating the success of her first event, the DEI Tech Networking Event, which took place on Nov. 3, 2022. Sponsors included Franklin Pierce, Manchester Community College, Black in Technology New England and her own Get Tech Smart TV show. “Honestly, I was astonished that people showed up,” she says, “and it was a diverse group!”
Impressed with her mission and ambition, UNH Center for Business Analytics has offered to host the next DEI networking event on April 13, which will be open to a variety of industries including tech, STEM, legal, business, medical and more.
“UNH said, ‘we’re going to help you promote DEI. You’re not doing this one alone,’” she recalls. She’s still in a bit of shock over the acceptance. “They’re like, wow, this is something that we can stand behind, we can promote and we can collaborate with,” Nicolas says.
However, it is not only her successful event that has her excited. Nicolas now hosts her own tech-inspired local TV show, Get Tech Smart, and advocates for the industry, spreading the good word internationally on her social platforms. She was selected to be a part of The Creator Accelerator Program, a 6-week incubator-style series where participants bring new concepts and visions to life, helping to grow their audience and engage in the LinkedIn community, which Nicolas described as a “phenomenal experience.” Her proposal of a short segment featuring global minority tech talent garnered the attention of LinkedIn, the web’s largest professional networking and career development platform, earning Nicolas a $12,000 business grant. “What I consider “the underdogs of technology” are doing amazing things, but they don’t get the spotlight they deserve,” Nicolas says.
According to online sources like CNBC, Fortune and JFF, Black candidates account for approximately 7% of the tech workforce. Nicolas has made a resolution to increase those figures. “Right now, my platform is about advocating for women in STEM because the numbers are very low, especially in New Hampshire.” Here, she says, “It’s probably about 1% Black tech talent, and my journey in tech, to be quite honest, was not a very pleasant one. What I said to myself was, how can I take my journey, the rejections that I got, and fuel them into something positive.”
With the emergence of virtual reality, AI and an ever-growing need of cybersecurity, each day technological opportunities progress faster. And even though this increase has slightly slowed, currently, the tech industry is projecting steady growth through 2030 with many vacancies that companies will be looking to fill.
According to the website Built in Boston, the average salary for a technical support agent is easily upwards of $70,000. Companies providing free training, (some without the need of a bachelor’s degree) and job placement are well poised, directly feeding students either into their own pool of talent or an array of open employment slots.
“What we are seeing now more is a lot of ‘earn and learn’ entry-level roles.” Apprenticeship NH, a web-based service of the Community College System of NH, is one driver working with local companies. “They have teamed up with Manchester Community College, and they are offering the cybersecurity and IT program,” says Nicolas.
As a way of improving the statistics, Nicolas had a conversation with software engineer Phil Kasiecki, “He was on my show one day and he was talking about diversity in New Hampshire. One of the things he said to me really hit home. A lot of times companies will hire and attract underrepresented tech talent, but they don’t focus on retention. We just started talking about what can be done,” says Nicolas.
That conversation led to the idea of the Diversity Tech Networking Event.
When Nicolas’s career as a lawyer began, she was still a newlywed just starting a family. When she realized her legal caseload was upsetting her work-life balance, Nicolas pivoted mid-career, joining a telecom company.
“I wanted a little bit more flexibility from having to be in the courtroom, going back and forth, traveling,” she says. Nicolas says she found that the telecom world had the flexibility she desired. She studied the business from the ground floor, working with engineers, consultants and construction teams. “I had to learn everything from the equipment to evaluating structural engineering reports and construction drawings, because I was overseeing vendors from various markets. So, it was a great learning experience for me … that was pretty much my introduction into the tech industry,” says Nicolas.
During her six years in telecom, noticing the lack of diversity initiatives in the industry, Nicolas became inspired. “I just felt like there was more lip service than action,” Nicolas says, and she wanted to reverse that.
In spite of Nicola’s efforts, education and responsibility, she felt unhappy with her own lack of corporate progress. “I felt like my career was flatlining, and I’ve always been someone who’s really looking to learn and grow and develop,” she says. Nicolas found herself at a crossroads, contemplating the best decision for her career, so she left the corporate world.
She met Laura Frederick, founder of How To Contract, who hired her as chief growth and community officer for her training and skill development organization. The acceptance was a shock at first, she says, because, in her previous role, “I was being told that I wasn’t qualified to go up the ladder even though I had a Juris Doctor, even though I’ve spent seven and a half years and did everything — then nothing ever happens. This woman was like, ‘No, I see your credentials. I see what you can do.’ It was a wake-up call because, to be honest, I really was feeling insecure about who I was. I felt maybe I didn’t deserve to climb the ladder. Maybe it was me,” Nicolas says.
Nicolas’s objective of introducing tech to minority sectors, specifically women, is now warranting international attention. Nicolas, herself originally from Zimbabwe, began to share the story of her corporate struggle on social media and was surprised to find out that similar frustrations were universal.
“I started getting women from all over the world that were sharing their stories and their struggles within the corporate atmosphere, where they felt like they didn’t belong or they didn’t have a voice, and they said thank you because I was being honest and sharing my story,” Nicolas says.
Nicolas began mentoring BIPOC individuals looking to break into the tech industry. She recalls, in particular, working with a man who had accepted a $13-per-hour job. She encouraged him, shared websites and job listings, and networked with recruiters. A couple of weeks later, she notes, “I see he keeps calling my phone back-to-back…he sends me a message on LinkedIn. I’m thinking, okay, there’s definitely something going on. I call him back, he’s like, ‘Well, guess what? I got multiple offers!’” These were tech jobs paying in the six-figure range, she says, admitting, “And I almost gave up. I thought maybe I was not as smart as I thought I was.”
To share her skill with others, Nicolas created a television show, “Get Tech Smart,” on her hometown of Hudson’s Cable Channel 20 where she hosts guests in the tech sector. “I try to be strategic to invite people who can share resources,” she says. Nicolas also makes videos on the TikTok platform geared at training Black women in tech that have received over 200,000 hits. “There is a hunger out there, women and tech professionals that are looking for work. What’s lacking is the opportunity,” says Nicolas.
“I want to clarify something,” says Nicolas, “no one is asking for a handout. I am not asking for people who are unqualified to get a job. That is not what this is about. This is about qualified people. People who have two master’s degrees, who are electrical engineers struggling to get a job.”
In her work as a board member, television show producer, social media presence and mentor, Nicolas’s aim is to make her mission more widely known. Her strategy is to continue to get deeply involved in the tech sector and “to infiltrate some of these boards,” she says.
“I joined the NH Tech Alliance Workforce Development. I found out that the board was not really diverse. They’re talking about DEI in the tech sector, and I said, ‘Hey, I’m here.’” She says this approach is important because, “if you want to talk about DEI, it starts with your board. I’m also part of the advisory board for the Center of Women’s Enterprise. Diverse boards actually increase creativity and you need to have that … especially these companies that are creating products that are targeting diverse communities. Your employees need to be a reflection of your customers.”
Nicolas says she draws her formidable fortitude from her parents. “I think, like most immigrants that came here in search of the American dream, they leveraged every resource they could find. My mom was the first one [to immigrate]and she had no money. Other people helped her, other immigrants who had already been here. She worked so hard to buy a ticket for me and my father, and then brought us over here after she established herself. My father practiced law for years and then he became an entrepreneur. Their hard work ethic is what I’ve always known. I have not known anything less than that. You’ve got to work hard. That was the bottom line,” Nicolas says with passion.
For those interested in tech, Nicolas recommends, “Look into cybersecurity. Why? Look all around you. Every week there is a breach somewhere. They are targeting schools, hospitals, Microsoft, Google and TikTok. All these big companies are getting targeted and, unfortunately, right now the hackers are successful at finding vulnerabilities to these networks.”
What does the future hold? With her current visibility, Nicolas is “creating connections, magnetizing competent allies, and expanding the space for inclusion, she says. “I’m actually going to be joining Manchester Community College faculty,” says Nicolas, “being able to continue to add diversity where it’s needed. I am thankful for that opportunity because of my network. And that’s my platform. It’s promoting resources that are available for people to get into tech, and it is putting awareness on tech companies to make a commitment to really look at their hiring practices and make sure that they are inclusive.”
This article is featured in the spring 2023 issue of 603 Diversity.
603 Diversity’s mission is to educate readers of all backgrounds about the exciting accomplishments and cultural contributions of the state’s diverse communities, as well as the challenges faced and support needed by those communities to continue to grow and thrive in the Granite State.
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