MTSU’s Zaza Receives Nashville Technology Council Award for Diversity, Inclusion Advocacy

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MTSU’s Zaza
MTSU’s Zaza

Sam Zaza, assistant professor in the MTSU Department of Information Systems and Analytics in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business, recently received a prestigious Nashville Technology Council Award as Diversity and Inclusion Advocate of the Year.

“I feel honored and humbled to be recognized by the Greater Nashville Technology Council for my Diversity and Inclusion efforts,” said Zaza. “It is an indication that the D&I initiatives have an impact on Nashville and Middle Tennessee. Yet, much more must be done to create an inclusive technology workplace and prepare a well-diverse technology workforce. Nashville industries are looking to attract diverse talent by signaling an inclusive workplace.”

The Greater Nashville Technology Council announced the winners of the 14th annual NTC Awards in mid- February at the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville. Winners represented technology champions in 14 categories.

This year’s awards ceremony, co-hosted by Elise Cambournac, CEO and president of the Greater Nashville Technology Council, and Michelle Brown, manager of public policy at Amazon in Nashville, brought together more than 500 attendees — representing more than 140 technology companies and related organizations in Middle Tennessee.

The Diversity and Inclusion Advocate of the Year Award is presented to an individual “who advocates for traditionally underrepresented minorities in technology in Middle Tennessee through leadership, mentorship, and community activism, as identified through open nominations.”

Nominees were judged on community impact and advocacy for underrepresented minorities in tech such as women or ethnic and racial minorities (Hispanic/Latino, Black/African American, Asian, Native American).

Examples include leading diversity and inclusion efforts in the community or in an organization, raising awareness of the need for diversity and inclusion in tech, mentoring minority students or professionals, or other efforts to advocate for increasing diversity and inclusion in the Middle Tennessee tech workforce.

“Dr. Zaza joins other members of her department who have received recognition from the NTC over the past few years, keeping our Information Systems and Analytics group at the forefront of collegiate IT programs in the region,” said David Urban, dean of the Jones College of Business.

In advising tech companies in the Greater Nashville area, Zaza said she emphasizes the importance of attracting underrepresented populations such as women and minorities early toward pursuing degrees in technology fields, “a step toward changing the demographics of future job applicants.”

And efforts cannot stop there, she said.

“Based on my research, I found that compensation is not always sufficient to attract the combination of experience and education needed in an employee,” Zaza added. “While it is excellent news that MTSU Information Systems graduates usually feed the Middle Tennessee tech workforce pipeline, I anticipate that Middle Tennessee tech companies can attract talent not just locally but regionally and make these companies destination employers for out-of-state employees.

“Employees are not just considering benefits to taking a job. They are looking for a healthy workplace where they can be themselves in their own skin. This is doable if incorporated into the Middle Tennessee tech organizations’ mission statement and strategies for hiring new talents.”

Zaza said tech employers should conduct routine assessments of their diversity and inclusion efforts, develop a code of ethics, engage local educational institutions, host events in rural and diverse communities and collaborate amongst each other about successful diversity and inclusion strategies and initiatives.

Zaza is an active member of the Association for Information Systems, having held a variety of leadership positions including SIG social inclusion president, Women College chair (AISWN), and is co-chair of the upcoming 2023 Association of Computing Machinery SIGMIS CPR Conference in California this summer.

Zaza’s recognition continues MTSU’s tradition of being well represented among NTC honorees, with Zaza’s colleague Amy Harris, associate professor and graduate program director, receiving the same
award in 2021.