Why Tech Beach in Jamaica Brings You New Opportunities, Connections, and Entrepreneurs

Editor’s Note: This guest column first ran on: Grit Daily 

When I recently traveled to Jamaica to speak at the Fourth Annual Tech Beach Conference in Montego Bay, I knew I’d be experiencing a warm and beautiful Caribbean resort. But I didn’t really know what else to expect with respect to its business culture.

The good news came quickly, in the first evening’s presentation, by Jamaica’s Minister of Science, Energy Technology, The Honorable Minister Fayval Williams, MP.

The Honorable Minister walked us through a powerful presentation about Jamaica’s well-educated workforce — the Americas’ third-largest English-speaking population.

We learned about the island’s world-class telecom infrastructure —and some of us may have been pleasantly surprised by just how welcoming its business climate has become.

Jamaica’s Outsourcing Operations Are Worth More Than a Half-Billion Dollars

But what have these partnerships demonstrated for us? Jamaica now handles more than a half a billion dollars of business process outsourcing operations every year.

In addition, the country along with other Caribbean nations, is becoming a test bed, or sandbox for the introduction of innovative use cases for digital monies and of course, the regulation of digital securities.

Diversity and Inclusion for Women In Tech

Two of the event’s most popular sessions focused on diversity and women in tech. A remarkable fireside chat brought Google executives together, including, but not limited to: Annie Jean-Baptiste, Head of Product Inclusion, Suezette Yasmin Robotham, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Program Manager Google Search Assistant, and Alan Tetley, who leads the engineering team that delivers Android’s mobile search experience.

Why Peak Google’s Interest?

Google sees Jamaica as a key venue for sharing and extending its work to build inclusive products for all users, by reflecting widely diverse perspectives throughout product design — “building for everyone, with everyone.”

The opportunities associated with technology were well represented at Tech Beach — ranging from fintech to IoT to cybersecurity. But discussions surrounding challenges plaguing these spaces were also embraced.

Tech Companies Need to Pay Mindful Attention to an Often Demeaning, Male-Dominated Culture

Another panel, Women in Tech: Diversity, Inclusion and the Bottom Line, explored the unfortunate climate in tech companies, fueled by a male-dominant environment.

The panel was moderated by Danielle Skeen, Sales Excellence Strategy Manager at Microsoft and included Julie Wenah, General Community Counsel and Acting Africa Regional Counsel at Airbnb, Deirdre Cousins, CIO at Grace Kennedy, Kamilah Taylor, Senior Software Engineer at Gusto, and Lisa Godwin, Creative Technologist at The New York Times.

Participants commiserated about a male-dominated and often demeaning tech company culture —one that continues to question women in senior roles, albeit sometimes with more subtlety than in the past. They swapped experiences of working hard to help male colleagues, and finding those male colleagues taking all the credit.

Compensation and Promotion Opportunities

Some pointed to continuing discrepancies in compensation and promotion. And participants also d solutions – not least, the importance of sponsors and champions within their organizations, often including white males.

Following the panel, I had the opportunity to interview Airbnb’s Julie Wenah, who also gave a fascinating talk on hip hop and the bible. She maintained that it’s OK for women to be confident and be themselves.

“You’re never too much,” Wenah d with me. “You’re always enough and…don’t allow anyone to put you in a box no matter what the normal rules of etiquette are.”

I attended Tech Beach partly to participate in its session on Entrepreneurship and Innovation within the Digital Revolution: one of several sessions on building great new tech businesses in the Caribbean and beyond.

The level of excitement around tech and innovation was inspiring – and I came away more convinced than ever about how much we can accomplish if we fully include everyone.