Main image of article Empowering Black Candidates and Employees Beyond Black History Month

Another Black History Month has come and gone. And while the time serves as a good reminder for organizations to look internally to examine how well they are empowering Black employees or job seekers through representation and advancement opportunities, that shouldn’t end once the calendar turns. 

Despite various diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives in the tech sector over the last few years, the industry remains very behind when it comes to achieving parity in both representation and pay. Only 7.4 percent of tech workers are Black, and another study found that just 4 percent of top earners in the tech sector are Black. 

While February is important for Black history, the opportunity exists all year long to draw upon lessons of the past and, using empathy, deepen our understanding of the Black experience. As the tech sector continues the necessary work of reducing racial disparity and expanding opportunities for Black people, tech organizations can amplify inclusive ideas that serve to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs and technical innovators.

Here’s how: 

Acknowledging business globalization drives inclusivity

In today’s global economy, marketers are tasked with appealing to global audiences. Part of doing that is becoming more aware and educated about diverse cultures. In my view, any organization that leans into the practice of sincerely becoming more culturally responsive will have a greater opportunity for long-term success across a very diverse audience.

In fact, we have seen great progress in marketing and ad campaigns and their appeal for women, people of color, and persons with disabilities. As positive examples, companies like Target, Apple, Dove and Nike are a few that have all done a good job of reaching broader, more diverse audiences by showcasing people from different backgrounds and abilities in their marketing, branding, and ad campaigns.

But, while the road to inclusivity is paved with good intentions, progress is rarely a straight line. As a whole, the tech sector still has a way to go in providing more recognition and more opportunities for Black people. To continue with recent progress, companies must encourage a structure where workers feel empowered to speak up when they believe that a Black point of view is needed to deepen the conversation, improve a project or inform a campaign. Additionally, there must be open dialogue and action taken to provide opportunities and access to Black employees and candidates.

Accountability in diverse leadership and hiring practices 

Some ways to increase the intersectionality of diversity in an organization and foster this type of acceptance include evaluating leadership, so that you have confidence in who is setting the direction and tone of the organization.

Building a diverse leadership team is an important first step in an organization's capacity to develop an inclusive culture where all employees feel they belong. This capability is greatly contingent upon the representative diversity in leadership positions. The C-suite’s impact on the management of the company is a direct correlation to the impact on hiring. However, if the company's leadership team is not diverse, they will often not recognize the deficiency or see a reason or a benefit to hiring diverse candidates.

Tech organizations must be purposeful in hiring diverse candidates. Hiring managers must insist on a diverse pool of candidates for open positions, and if they are not presented with a cross-section of diverse options, they must question the lack of diversity in the candidates being presented. By being eager to diversify the talent pool, companies will make more significant progress toward the goal of inclusivity. This may require additional recruiting efforts such as including Historically Black Colleges and Universities in recent graduate recruiting or Black professional organizations in broader efforts.

Expanding the reach of the tech opportunity

While there are ample opportunities to improve the diversity of the existing tech space, the true path forward is opening the door wider for the next generation of tech workers. Providing exposure to the opportunities that exist within this industry will eventually assist in a natural increase in diversification.  As an example, the non-profit organization Girls Who Code provides exceptional technology education for girls and women to pursue careers and opportunities in computer science.

But even beyond computing, there is space in the tech sector for Black people who have passions and skills outside of those that are STEM-related. In other words, you don’t have to be a techie to be successful in tech. From marketing and sales to finance, HR and education–the opportunities are endless.

Resource groups that enrich a diverse culture

Creating employee resource groups (ERGs) is another approach that can help organizations foster a culture of diversity. These groups are important because they allow members to be surrounded with like-minded people, but also invite allies and colleagues with different perspectives for an opportunity to collaborate. By acknowledging differences and encouraging dialogue without reluctance, resource groups can bring about a deeper appreciation of diversity.

It's about being approachable, thinking creatively, and stepping beyond comfort zones. As our workplaces become increasingly diverse, it's important to understand and appreciate differences in race, gender, geography, religion, and ethnicity. Thus, organizations can foster a culture that shows respect for all people. Ultimately, groups can create opportunities to express ways that illustrate how interconnected we are, rather than how we are different. 

Black history in America is not just about the Black experience. The contributions and achievements of Black people around the world are indeed the history and achievements of us all. Every person has a role to play in expanding the collective consciousness and understanding of the truths about our shared American history. We are all responsible for creating workplaces that provide equal opportunities and are open and inclusive in a manner that allows our Black colleagues to show up as their full selves. 

Jenelle Davis is Senior Product Marketing Manager for Exabeam.