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Being Black in tech: breaking through barriers with three industry leaders

HERE360 speaks with three Black tech leaders about being #BlackInTech and the industry's challenge to increase diversity.

Every technology company talks about its dedication to diversity and inclusion but the percentage of people of color working in the field remains low. According to ABC News, only between 1% and 3.5% of executives at Alphabet, Apple, Cisco, and Facebook are Black (as per the most recent and available statistics from 2018).

In keeping with HERE Unity & Power, a Black employee resource group, HERE360 is contributing to Black History Month (BHM) via a series of articles dedicated to Black tech workers as they describe their path to success despite the challenges they continue to face.

Other BHM initiatives hosted by HERE include the celebration of Black/African contributions to mapping, apps and patents, and donations via Amazon Smile to Common Ground, Family Matters, Black Girls Code, and other Black foundations.

A common response to low diversity and inclusion rates in the tech industry is the claim that there are fewer available and qualified Black workers. However, in June 2020 the LA Times shone a spotlight on the facts: “In 2016, 8.6% of graduates with a bachelor's degree in computer and information science were Black and a little over 10% were Latino... Even the graduating class of computer science majors at Stanford, Silicon Valley's elite training ground, is more diverse than the companies just down the road from campus."

The reality is, there are a lot of factors that keep Black people from accessing employment in a major sector of the world's economy.Deidre Wright, CEO Strategic Strategies

Deidre Wright, Award-Winning Executive, Startup Advisor, and CEO of Strategic Stories. Image credit: Deidre Wright.

Deidre Wright, CEO of Strategic Stories and Brand Consultant offers her analysis,

"...The solutions are accountability and visibility. Executive leaders can be held accountable for diversity, equity, and inclusion success by tying it to their compensation. Then increase the visibility of existing Black talent in the field via career sponsorship, features in the media, and industry award nominations; you'll create a pipeline of Black C-Suite talent and get more support from leadership."

Committed to learning more, HERE360 interviewed three Black tech leaders about their setbacks, achievements, and vision for the future.*

Kellye Dash, Director, Hawk Business Group

...Take advantage of the current attention and movement towards cultural acceptance... contact culturally diverse groups in your area and invite them to discuss how they can help support diversity in their company..."

Kellye Dash, Director, Hawk Business Group

How did you overcome career limitations and obstacles?

“...I looked to others who were like me, Black women in a male-dominated field. I listened to their stories in podcasts and [read about them] in books, and that allowed me to feel I was not alone. Their words of determination and encouragement made me confident to push forward when I had moments of self-doubt and discouragement."

What achievements are you most proud of?

“In light of the current economic climate, one of the things I am proud of is looking beyond the traditional ways of connecting. Instead of feeling stuck, I took greater advantage of technology to connect. LinkedIn is a very important platform; however, I wanted to develop broader networking circles so, I actively sought industry-specific and economically-focused groups. Along with participation in online platforms, I have been able to extend my reach to connect with others in and outside of the United States."

Why do the world's tech giants still report such low percentages of Black employees and executives?

“To keep it simple, we are behind from not having the access or ability to pursue economic opportunities. While the pool of talented Black professionals is wide and deep, we lack visibility and opportunity. However, we are catching up. We are excelling in corporate America and we're establishing our own businesses every day. We have role models; we have a pathway, and we are taking those opportunities."

Nathaniel Idahosa, Junior iOS Developer

“...Companies should hire people who are qualified for the job regardless of their skin color or background..."

Nathaniel Idahosa, Junior iOS Developer, Just Eat Takeaway.com, YouTuber, and podcast host

What changes in the tech industry have you experienced since you secured your current role?

“I am delighted to see more Black people getting into tech. The internet is full of free and cheap learning resources. Many of us are finally noticing that we have all we need to reach our goal..."

What achievements are you most proud of?

“Switching my career from IT-Supporter to Software Developer without a computer science degree and no background in programming; launching multiple channels (YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcast, etc) and being consistent in posting content on them; inspiring and helping other people through my channels."

 

Dennis Schultz, Executive Director, Blacks in IT Technology Foundation

“Black talent retention has to be intentional. Understand the culture of your organization and find ways to make it more inclusive and equitable..."

Dennis Schultz, Executive Director, Blacks In Technology Foundation

How did you overcome career limitations and obstacles?

“Looking back on my career, I wish I would have had a mentor or a sponsor within my company who could have helped guide me... My response was to work harder, make my intentions for growth and leadership clear, and be intentional about my career path through self-initiated training and certifications. After two years in an organization, if there is no clear path forward for me, I will look for opportunities elsewhere. Life is too short to stay in a situation with people who don't value you..."

What advice would you give to companies with diversity and inclusion goals?

“My advice is to have two plans, a plan for hiring and recruitment of Black talent, and a plan [for retention]. Regarding recruitment, don't make excuses. Yes, there is a Black talent pipeline challenge, but [it is] not limited to Black workers... If you recruit from predominantly white universities, you are limiting your opportunities to fill critical roles."

Why do the world's tech giants still report such low percentages of Black employees and executives?

“One word, accountability. There is currently no incentive for tech companies to advance or promote Black leaders into senior management, executive leadership, or board seats. There are no laws or consumer backlash to hold companies accountable for the lack of (Black) diversity at the leadership level... This points to a more systemic problem, if you don't have many Black employees, there is going to be an even smaller pool of Black candidates to promote from... Some companies know that their diversity numbers won't be received well by the public and as a result, they refuse to share them or even track them. I hope this will change."

Black-Woman-African-American-Tech-Portrait-Leader

In January 2021, The Silicon Valley Leadership Group announced a new strategy called “25 x 25", which aims to increase minority executives by 25%, by the year 2025.

Deidre Wright is an Award-Winning Executive, Startup Advisor, and CEO of Strategic Stories. She brands professionals as industry experts to attract dream clients, careers, and lives they love. Previously she was a Director of Engagement and Marketing for Business Insurance Magazine, organizing events, booking speakers, and judging award nominations to promote diversity & inclusion.

Kellye Dash is a technology solutions professional who began her IT career with Nextel Communications in 1999. Kellye now operates Hawk Business Group, a technology services company based in Tampa, Florida that helps business customers with their IT needs. They offer computer support, project coordination, and data security protection services.

Nathaniel Idahosa is an iOS Software Engineer for Just Eat Takeaway.com/Lieferando.de. Nathaniel taught himself how to code in late 2017 and secured his first role in Software Development in mid-2019. In 2020 he launched multiple channels on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcast in addition to his platform “Codestories" with the aim of inspiring people with his journey into software development while building community.

Dennis Schultz is the Executive Director of the Blacks In Technology Foundation, the largest international network for Black technology professionals. Dennis's experience includes time at Dropbox, Gartner, Samsung, Dell, Lenovo, VERITAS Software, and APC. Dennis is also the founder of SaaS startup PaparazzMe, a mobile service for on-demand photography launching in 2021.

*Deidre Wright, Kellye Dash, Nathaniel Idahosa, and Dennis Schultz were interviewed via email on January 27th, 2021.

Learn more about Black History Month at HERE featuring ESRI mapping.

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