Last updated: The Black experience in tech: Twitter talks racism, solutions, accountability

The Black experience in tech: Twitter talks racism, solutions, accountability


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The Black experience in tech encompasses a lot of difficult truths. From woeful underrepresentation to unconscious bias to outright racism, the only way to make change is to start discussing the realities honestly and openly.

From boardrooms to break rooms to bedrooms, race is now at the forefront of conversations globally. The ways in which companies and brands have chosen to respond has varied drastically, from launching initiatives to addressing the inequities to happily wanting to maintain the status quo.

During an important and pivotal #CXTweetChat, the focus was on aspects of the Black experience with special guests: Brent Leary, CRM Essentials (@brentleary),  Margot Goodson, SAP North America Diversity & Inclusion Lead (@margotgoodson), Erica Davis from SAP (@brainechick) Angelica Valentine, writer & marketer (@AngelicaSaidSo), and myself, a writer/producer (@caligreen).

We each shared our experiences by answering the following questions:

  1. Share your experiences of being Black in Tech – what stands out, what advice would you share, what encouragement have you had?
  2. We know that tech lacks in Black representation. Is there a formative moment in your life that affected the trajectory of your career?
  3. How can brands or products design better for the Black experience?
  4. Where will we be in 3-5 years when we are measuring our success?
  5. How have you advanced in your career, and how are we raising our kids to have the same opportunities?
  6. Many companies have pledged to improve diversity. What metrics do you think are most important to track?
  7. What are some ways to increase racial inclusion in the workplace?

The illuminating conversation shared several common themes.

The Black experience in tech: Hard truths and actionable moments

Black employees are well aware of the problem and have sound advice for their Black colleagues.

During the interview process, “white male applicants are hired based on potential,” says Pascal Desroches, CFO of WarnerMedia, in a roundup featured on The Daily Show. Meanwhile, Black applicants (if they even make it to the interview process given longstanding name discrimination) are asked to jump through hoops proving their established value. All of us on the panel nodded our heads as this was discussed.

I kept my shortened high school nickname of Cali (rather than using my full name Calandra) when I entered corporate spaces after college. During our CXTweetChat, I shared my experience as a Black woman interviewing with a tech startup: called in for two separate in-person interviews, a lengthy follow-up phone interview, and then being asked to do highly involved spec work for free. (I declined.)

My colleagues in this conversation also offered several examples of ways companies can authentically approach diversity and inclusion, as well as advice for Black employees and candidates.

Once a brand is ready to authentically tackle this problem and better serve their Black employees (and consumers), they should hire and ask the experts–just remember we’re not a monolith.

As this Forbes article states, “Diversity is simply the first step, and without inclusivity, is just tokenism.” This is often the case when a diversity hire is made and then becomes the “token” voice for the entirety of their race or gender. This action does a great disservice to the employee and to the company culture at large. The Black community is broad and varied in our experiences and consumer habits. To expect that a lone person can speak to the magnitude of that is unrealistic.

And worse, many of these actions are often seen as a transparent and inauthentic way to placate calls to action for hiring more Black employees.

Those of us working in tech know that brands are not only paying us less, but also treating us differently.

 As The Wall Street Journal reports: “job seekers who identified as Black…tended to both expect and receive lower salary offers than their white and Asian peers…” These wage gaps are often seen as the direct result of centuries of systemic racism.

They’re also indicative of the tremendous power imbalances within most top companies: In the past 21 years, there have only been 18 Black CEOs on the Fortune 500 lists, and only 2.7% of the top roles in Big Tech are held by Black executives.

“Given the racist rhetoric and vitriol in the air right now, racism is more prevalent today than we would have hoped,” says Anthony J. Mayo, a Harvard Business School senior lecturer and co-editor of the book Race, Work, and Leadership: New Perspectives on the Black Experience. While these may seem harsh realities leading to hard conversations, it’s necessary to have them in order to improve workplace environments for Black employees in tech and beyond.

To make significant and sustainable change, tech companies must commit to having the hard conversations, making structural changes from the top down, and perhaps most important: include Black employees in every stage of the process. Actions speak louder than words. Here’s what we are doing to adder the Black experience in tech.

Equality for ALL:
Go from messaging about inclusion to making it a reality.

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