A groundbreaking Chicago initiative, referred to as P33, aims to change Chicago’s technology landscape by 2033. By uniting established business and technology leaders, P33 hopes to strengthen Chicago’s position as an inclusive, top-performing tech city.
“P33 is an effort to take Chicago’s capabilities, which are really first class, and transform the city into a leading tech hub,” said Chris Gladwin, a co-chair of P33 and the CEO of Ocient, a data analytics company. To achieve this vision, Gladwin and his P33 colleagues believe expanding diversity in the city’s innovation and tech sectors is essential.
Executing such an ambitious plan, required P33 to curate a leadership team that seeks out and promotes diverse talent. “One of the most important things I need to do as I build this team is to make sure it reflects all of Chicago,” said Brad Henderson, P33’s Chief Executive Officer.
Tiffany Legge, a project leader at Boston Consulting Group, has played a key role in much of P33’s inclusivity research to date and said she is personally driven to execute P33’s diversity mission. Legge grew up in a low-income, single-parent household in Indiana. Her mother, who suffered from drug addiction, was incarcerated for most of Legge’s childhood. While Legge’s father served as a parental figure, he did not attend college and was not aware of tech-focused educational or career opportunities, Legge explained. In fact, she was not exposed to these opportunities until a middle school science program seeking high-potential, underrepresented students recruited her. “Essentially my involvement in that program is what shifted my entire trajectory,” she said.
Legge understands that many students from adverse backgrounds never partake in programs catering to a tech-focused career path. “I am literally the exception,” she said. “I am not at all the expectation.” But she views P33 as an opportunity to make her story more common. By creating opportunities for other low-income individuals at a young age, P33 can potentially change their trajectories too, she said.
Exposing more students to the tech industry begins with establishing what the leadership team calls a “pipeline.” “It is critical to create a pipeline from around the time students enter tenth grade to the time they get their first job,” said Penny Prtizker, a P33 co-chair and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Aside from nurturing students’ interests in tech from an early age, the P33 team is also working to promote opportunities for those already further down the pipeline.
In addition to grooming students for advanced coding and engineering jobs that require expensive degrees, P33 wants to create opportunities for low-income students as well. It plans to implement tech-focused curriculum within community colleges that can credentialize candidates for tech jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree, thus developing talent on all scales. Although the leadership team acknowledges tackling this issue in a highly segregated city will not be an easy feat, they recognize this commitment to diversity will elevate Chicago. “My entire life the best problem solving I’ve seen is when you get people from very diverse backgrounds, and approaches to thinking together in the same place,” Henderson said.
Pritzker’s time working alongside global business and tech leaders as U.S. Secretary of Commerce has also convinced her P33 can create a meaningful impact on Chicago’s economy and the people who live there.“Diversity of thought and ideas as well as backgrounds is key to bolstering the Chicago tech community and recognizing inclusive economic growth,” Pritzker said. The culmination of leaders from diverse backgrounds and industries will “bolster and build” the tech community, she added. But for this to transpire, more collaborative efforts must occur, Pritzker said.
In the last year, P33 has engaged over 250 stakeholders from established companies, academic and public sector partners, start-ups, venture capitalists, and research institutions – all who share P33’s vision to drive technology leadership and inclusive economic growth. While Chicago has a diverse economy, the tech hub’s various sectors work independently rather than collaboratively. “Building a more purposeful way to collaborate and interact is a real challenge that we need to solve,” Pritzker said.
Moving forward, Pritzker hopes Chicago can take “aggressive, coordinated, and unified steps” to build its innovative ecosystem. P33 aims to provide companies with the support and resources they need to collaborate and rapidly raise Chicago’s position as a technology hot spot. “It’s going to be hard to achieve, but there’s no reason for us with the history of Chicago and the bold things that we’ve done not to set that as the aspiration,” Henderson said.