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Black History Month at HERE: Is tech the great equalizer?

To celebrate Black History Month, HERE360 speaks with members of Unity & Power, HERE's ERG for Black/African employees, about diversity, inclusion and community in the tech industry.

In 2020 Google employed 135,301 people, according to Statista. In its American locations, only 2.4% were Black.

While many tech giants have doubled their workforce in recent years, they've made little progress in the area of diversity. Some blame lack of education or experience as the reason behind low Black employment rates, but others say the real problem lies in lack of equal access, deep-rooted and closed networks, and overall support of Black talent.

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In October 2020, Forbes reported: "The number of Black, Latinx and Native American women who receive computing degrees has fallen nearly 40% over the past decade."

Back when the Internet was in its budding stages enthusiasts including American writer Stewart Brand, saw the digital revolution as a way to spread “hippie sensibilities" like the sharing of resources via the web. Others saw the Internet as an opportunity to correct the failures of society.

Technology was supposed to be the great equalizer, so what happened? And, more importantly, what can we do to improve inclusivity and diversity in the tech industry?

HERE's Black Employee Resource Group (ERG), Unity & Power, is working to raise awareness, increase diverse representation and help Black employees achieve leading roles within the company. This year, in celebration of Black History Month (BHM), HERE is launching exciting new initiatives with the aim of improving visibility for their Black employees while challenging bias.

During February, HERE will facilitate a “learn and share" session with an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) career services professional to gain insight into how HERE can build better relations with HBCUs and attract more Black talent. And, in addition to partnering and giving back to Common Ground, Family Matters, Black Girls Code, and other Black foundations, HERE is using LinkedIn and Instagram to feature the powerful voices of their Black employees.

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Working with Esri's Northstar GIS ERG, HERE is helping to reveal bias in data design and analysis with a project called “Mapping the Black Family"

In this article, the second of two stories dedicated to BHM and Black tech workers, we ask four of HERE's Black employees about the challenges Black people face in the tech industry and how HERE is working towards change

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“Lack of career sponsors and mentorship makes working in tech difficult for Blacks"

Dorothea Cooper, Project Manager, Co-Leader of Unity & Power ERG

What specific challenges do Black employees face when working or trying to enter into the tech industry?

“...Close your eyes. Now visualize a developer, a software engineer, or a data scientist. Did you visualize a Black person? If not, this is called unconscious bias and it is the number one reason why entering the tech industry as a Black person is challenging...

...I've personally experienced this; I was an engineer at the time. During a meeting, the facilitator directed his technical questions to the person he thought was the engineer and asked me if I was taking the meeting notes: 'Make sure you write all this down,' he said. After the meeting, the facilitator apologized and said, 'I am sorry I thought you were someone else'... I guess I didn't fit his profile of an engineer..."

How does HERE help to increase Black representation within the tech industry?

“...A commitment has been made to analyzing hiring and promotion practices to increase Black talent and representation, starting with awareness and education for hiring managers about unconscious bias and creating diverse teams. There has been a strong focus on creating an inclusive culture at HERE with campaigns such as I Belong HERE, Life at HERE, in addition to employee surveys around culture, inclusion, and feeling valued..."

How is HERE a role model for other large tech companies when it comes to diversity and inclusion?

“By taking a stance to embed inclusion into the HERE culture... this is one way HERE can become a role model for other tech companies. Be authentic, make it who you are and what you do."

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“Placing diversity and inclusion as a core value ... a successful survival strategy that all tech companies ought to adopt..."

Lenah Kitenge, Senior Community Analyst, Member of Unity & Power ERG

What specific challenges do Black employees face when working or trying to enter into the tech industry?

“My favorite quote... is by Freada Kapor Klein, an advocate for diversity in tech. She says: 'Tech's approach to diversity, in the last few years, has been like filling a bathtub with the drain open.' And I one hundred percent agree...

"The industry's stagnancy can be attributed to archaic hiring principles that have been at their core for years. This has meant that the lack of diversity extends from Black employees being hired for entry-level jobs, to an absence of Black executives and senior managers. This perpetuates an exclusive monocultural system as people who look, think, and act the same are hired, which further restricts access. It's important to note that access... also speaks to the support, mentorship, and opportunities that are available once an employee starts working in that company..."

How is HERE acting as an ally to their surrounding Black communities, and for their Black employees?

HERE actively engages employees at all levels to not only explain what allyship means to them but to also confirm their commitment to being allies in both their professional and personal lives... In addition to this, having groups such as Unity & Power... as official HERE employee resources creates an avenue for the support that Black employees can rely on... Adding faces to the stories of discrimination tends to personalize the concept and creates a space that encourages learning and real-time engagement."

 

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“There are not many senior Black employees in the industry that [Black students] can look up to..."

Babatunde Kufo, Senior Research and Development Project Specialist

How does HERE help to increase Black representation within the tech industry?

“HERE set up 'Behavioral Interviewing' as a required training before anyone conducts interviews. This helped me to ensure that I was not looking for someone 'just like me'. HERE has supported the Unity & Power Employee Resource Group (ERG) within the company. One of the [results] is that Black employees can be better aware of other (Black employees) in different roles and countries..."

How is HERE a role model for other large tech companies when it comes to diversity and inclusion?

“Over my eleven-year career at HERE, in all the teams that I have been a part of, I've always experienced that my opinions count, and the perspectives of the different team members are valued. The teams always had members from many countries, all over the world, so there were often very different perspectives to consider. This was a good thing and I think that this is not a given..."

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“As a Black woman, I see gender stereotypes and cultural biases as plagues working against Black people as they try to enter the tech industry."

Nyaradzo Chaminama-Butau, Sr Spatial Data Engineer, Member of Unity & Power ERG

What specific challenges do Black employees face when working or trying to enter into the tech industry?

“...A Black person must prove themselves, against all odds, that they are a good fit for the job... Some cannot get past the idea that if you are educated in Africa or other developing regions, you are a competent and skilled tech professional. For a woman, the battle is even tougher since one must pass through general stereotypes against women, then the stereotypes against Blacks in general..."

How does HERE help to increase Black representation within the tech industry?

“...Employees are hired based on skills, experience, and qualifications. My experience at HERE in Eindhoven is that the company prides itself for having more than fifteen nationalities working at the same location."

How is HERE acting as an ally to their surrounding Black communities, and for their Black employees?

“HERE allyship with surrounding Black communities comes in the form of internships. There are 'Give Back' initiatives where HERE volunteers match donations in support of minorities or communities in need.

"I remember when the Eindhoven office volunteered to pack food hampers for the victims of Cyclone Idai in Southern Africa, which happens to be where my origins are. This support made me feel that I can count on the support of HERE, as this was a cause close to my heart..."

Although there's no simple solution to diversity, tech brands looking to increase representation can take a tip from HERE's Senior Employee Experience Manager, Leslie Orellana: “It's not just one thing, it's a variety. We're focusing on continuing to develop our diverse candidate pipeline — qualified candidates are out there. It's our job to find them. And once they join us, it's our job to make sure that the work environment is one where everyone can thrive, which is why we focus on inclusion. Through Unity & Power, we're forging internal and external relationships to drive Black representation."

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