Dennis Williams the 24-year-old African American working in Silicon Valley for Redbooth Inc argues that unbiased eye for talent not only benefits consumers but is good for the future of companies and organisations
For years, I’d read about how the need for diversity and inclusion problem stems throughout Silicon Valley’s culture, but it’s much different seeing it daily.
In the tech world, I’m an anomaly. Seldom do I see familiar faces in these offices, and when I do, there’s an immediate, unspoken respect given. I remember visiting Yahoo, and every Black person on the floor just so happened to be a part of the Yahoo Black Network.
Discovering diversity in this tech bubble is a problem that many of us pose solutions to. I may not have the answer (if there is such a thing) but I do have insight.
Black millennials feel the pressure to conform in many ways, amongst the struggles of imposter syndrome or just trying to fit in. The covering becomes so consistent that it’s comfortable. There’s a dire need for diversity, for the sake of consumers but also for the future of our organisations.
I grew up with one person who had an interest in tech and its impact on our culture. Lead Android Engineer, Ben Harvey, is an alumnus of Code2040 which is a program developing Black and Latinx engineers for opportunities from the top companies in Silicon Valley.
I couldn’t ever forget the day he received his admittance letter, the website opened up like an envelope on the screen, revealing his acceptance to the program. We jumped around his mom’s apartment like we’d won the NBA championship (To the point where the neighbours below had to knock on their ceiling with a broom).
Up until that point, we were just a couple kids with a dream and hustle, building and growth hacking product experiences for the individual clients we had. It may sound small but it was how we put ourselves through college.
For many reasons, it now felt like we were being invited to be a part of the club and no longer an outsider without an opportunity.
As an eyewitness to Ben’s discovery of Code2040, it was a daunting google search, all attributed to good SEO and a devoted developer from humble beginnings. You’d think these opportunities set the stage. They didn’t. But they did open the door.
Fast forward to now, my first week in San Francisco I attended a Code2040 event. I spent an hour networking with the next generation of tech leaders. The students who were a part of this fellowship had no fear in introducing themselves to me and discussing their aspirations.
Being someone who used to be on the other side, it excited me to see myself in them. They spoke about these opportunities like they were far-fetched or that they needed luck aside from their immense talent to pull this off. Nonetheless, they recognized the gravity of the situation.
Most of these students were from the east coast, tucked away in small groups who were hard pressed to find others who’re enthusiastic about the world of tech. They asked me how I got here as if I was harbouring the secret. I started to identify with everything I was reading about the pipeline problem and pair it with what I saw before me.
Not just business, but the workplace would benefit from minds like these. I find it hard to believe that there is such a lack of minority talent. We need to cultivate this community to produce great products, create workplaces of the future, and businesses with a completely diverse workforce.
We’ve witnessed the fast growth of Slack and their unbiased eye for talent. They’ve recently reported that racial minorities in tech make up 11.5 percent of Slack’s workforce.
We’ve also seen the troubles of a workplace lacking diversity, both gender and colour, and how it’s resulted with Uber. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, here are my thoughts on progress from a life on both coasts.
It’s hard to discover where the diverse talent is from afar. Trying to spur such change from behind a computer screen isn’t nearly as impactful as actually putting in the groundwork. Being present at HBCUs or implementing programs in multiple colleges with diverse student bodies will actually influence change among these urban communities.
How are these chances being communicated to students? Will information applicable to this tech ever make it into the curriculum?
Google has plans to open “Howard West” on its Mountain View campus, a Silicon Valley branch of the historically Black university, Howard University. Here, computer science majors can learn in the heart of tech culture, with the aide of one of the largest tech companies.
More companies need to get behind programs that have a presence on particular campuses or allow for a dedicated space on their grounds.
Programs which introduce minority groups to tech opportunities are few and far between. The ones that do exist are extremely sought after. With such dedicated students longing for these chances, we need to make them more accessible. To open this funnel isn’t easy and it’s unlikely that the best approach looks like remote, one-off programs.
The next tech great entrepreneur of colour may not possess a technical skill set.
I’m a storyteller at heart; I love to create narratives that build audiences. I found this passion with tech because I was privy to its impact on business and I had all the tools to measure my success.
The next minority talent may lead the recruiting revolution, channel his or her creativity to market tomorrow’s Snapchat, or even a product genius. The few programs that exist are limited to technical majors but I’m a huge proponent of inspiring the youth to explore the other avenues of tech, particularly if they aren’t interested in coding.
My journey started with an internship that taught me a great deal about digital content, along with a lifestyle of only the bare minimum, thus building the fortitude needed for this industry. Helping people find great products is what I loved to do, and I did it best through content.
I was fortunate enough to channel my creativity at a time where more tech companies saw the value in content marketing. The college curriculum doesn’t present specific paths for those interested in tech outside of engineering.
But I bet there is an overwhelming amount of individuals would prosper in a successful career in a variety of areas: customer success, product, and marketing to name a few. Yet, for the most part, people of my background think working in tech means you know how to either build an app or an actual computer.
There’s imminent value in having a diverse group of individuals in the boardroom when making decisions about your customers. Whether it’s about marketing or deciding on a product experience, a well-rounded team is more equipped for success than an office of monotony.
To work in tech as a Black millennial is a coveted yet isolated position. Diversity and inclusion is a problem in tech that is only conquered by committee. Companies made of diverse teams will lead the future and there are too many talented women and minority faces for the pipeline to be the problem.