Innovation around building a diverse talent pipeline – an interview

Dan Gonzalez, co-founder of District C

As a diversity consultant, I frequently talk to clients about the importance of diversity recruiting. And with the shrinking talented labor pool along with its increasing diversity, companies and organizations need to start early to build a more diverse talent pipeline. I recently met a fascinating young man, Dan Gonzalez, Co-Founder of “District C”, a nonprofit working to build the diverse talent pipeline of the future, starting with high school students.

Here is my interview with Dan:


Stan: Could you tell me more about your organization and exactly what your mission is?

Dan: I’ll start far afield with a few basketball stats, but I promise to bring it back to District C! In the 1983-1984 season, NBA teams averaged just over 2 3-point shot attempts per game. This past season, they averaged 32 3-point attempts per game (https://www.basketball-reference.com/). Wow… the game has changed! It’s no surprise that youth players across the world are preparing for a new style of play dominated by the 3-point shot. Because if you aspire to a career as a competitive basketball player, being a 2-point player just won’t cut it anymore.

Work is changing, too. Employers are increasingly looking for a different kind of talent. They need people who appreciate diversity for the power it brings to a team. People who know how to leverage the diverse strengths and perspectives of others. People who know how to tackle complex, novel problems. This is the 3-point player of the modern economy.

Yet just 11% of business leaders strongly agree that recent college graduates are prepared for today’s work (Gallup, 2018). That’s a problem. We can’t keep preparing 2-point players for a 3-point labor market. In short, District C prepares 3-point players. We teach high school students how to work in diverse teams to solve complex problems.

District C’s programs help high students learn how to work productively on diverse teams.


Stan: What kind of programs do you offer, and who is your target audience?

Dan: We have two programs. Our #FirstInTalent Accelerator teaches the next generation of early talent (high school students) how to work in diverse teams to solve complex problems. In teams of four (four students from four different schools), students work to solve real problems for real businesses. When recruiting students, we work hard to reach every corner of the region and every kind of school imaginable so that we can build teams with students who bring different backgrounds and strengths to the work. After all, you can’t teach students how to leverage the diverse strengths of others unless you put them in truly diverse teams.

And through our Coaching Institute, we train educators and schools to adopt our learning model back in their school communities.
We have reached over 400 students and 40 educators since our founding in early 2017. Through our #FirstInTalent movement, we aim to put the Triangle, North Carolina region on the map as a national leader in diverse talent development.


Stan: On a personal level, what inspired you to start District C?

Dan: The world has lots of problems to solve and opportunities to seize. As educators, we need to do better at preparing our next generation of talent with the tools they need to solve these problems and seize these opportunities. If we don’t, these students will struggle to find fulfilling careers that pay a living wage, and our companies and institutions will struggle to find the talent they need to sustain and grow their organizations.


Stan: Not only is your work interesting, but I am intrigued by your organization’s name. What is behind the name / meaning of the name “District C?”

Dan: The “C” stands for collective. The main focus of our learning model is teaching individuals how to leverage the power of a diverse collective to produce ideas and solutions bigger and better than any one person could generate on their own. District C strives to bring students together from all over the region… students who bring different backgrounds, experiences, and strengths. Our hope is that our students leave the program with the mindsets and tools needed to appreciate and leverage the power of difference.


Stan: How can businesses and the community support your important work?

Dan: Thanks for asking! Two ways that businesses can support District C: (1) provide a real business problem for our teams of students to solve, (2) become a #FirstInTalent Member Organization, and receive all of the benefits of membership, by making a financial contribution.


Stan: Thank you for sharing a little about your organization and its work. I wish you the best with your critical mission in today’s world. So how can people find more information about District C?

Dan: Website: www.districtc.co/
Twitter: @DistrictC17
Instagram: @DistrictC17

Leadership Insights from IBM’s North Carolina Senior State Executive, Tim Humphrey

Timothy Humphrey, IBM Vice President, Chief Data Officer and NC Senior State Executive

Note: See links to my past leadership lesson blogs from the Raleigh Chamber C-Suites series as well as the Triangle Business Journal’s Power Breakfast gatherings at the bottom of this post.

The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce holds its “C-Suite Perspectives” breakfast meeting several times per year and features area senior level executives sharing their leadership stories and insights. The November session with IBM Vice President, Chief Data Officer and NC Senior State Executive Timothy Humphrey provided another excellent session with several important leadership lessons.

After sharing his own unique career journey from NC State University to IBM to Lenovo and then back to IBM (sprinkled with a sense of humor – Tim labeled himself “a goofy engineer who cares about people”), Tim shared 10 main points organized within 4 topics. Here they are.

Topic A – The Foundation

1) Be Authentic. That is the foundation for all leadership, and Tim found that trying to be someone he wasn’t simply does not work.

Topic B – Personal Leadership

2) Build Diverse Teams. Diversity does drive innovation.

3) Engage Employees. It is important for leaders to set an example and create a culture that engages employees which drives positive business results. And build a culture where employees feel free to ask questions, get coaching and take chances.

4) Give Back. It is important for leaders to give back to the community. For example, Tim serves on the Wake County Boys & Girls Clubs Board of Directors and on the University of North Carolina’s World View Advisory Board.

Topic C – Personal Growth

5) Have a high performance mindset …. Even when no one is watching.

6) Have a vision and a long-term perspective.

7) Go beyond just networking and build relationships. Great leaders have a ton of strong relationships.

Topic D – Business Leadership

8) Focus on measurement and outcomes.

9) Visualize success and adjust your plan along the path as you need to.

10) Make data-driven decisions. It is important to remove bias, including seeking others’ opinions to assist with this.

* * * * *

My earlier C-Suite Perspectives Leadership Blogs:

September 2017: Six Leadership Insights from a local “Fortune 1000” CEO – with Martin Marietta CEO C. Howard Nye.

November 2016: Learning about Leadership through Life – with Duke Energy NC President David Fountain

May 2016: Seven Insights on Leadership, Success and Diversity from Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good

Feb 2015: Raleigh Chamber of Commerce CEO Harvey Schmitt shares about leadership and collaboration

May 2014: Exploring Leadership, Talent Development and Innovation with a Local Senior ABB Executive

March 2014: Leadership Advice from a Senior Lenovo Executive