Eric Kelly has always been perplexed — and frustrated — by the pervasive notion among corporate executives that finding capable Black talent is a challenge.
As one of the few Black CEOs of a major company in Silicon Valley, he fortified the staff of his hybrid Cloud IT infrastructure firm with African Americans and people of color, and did not have difficulty finding them, he said.
“The problem for others has been either they didn’t really know where to look or that they didn’t look hard enough or that they didn’t really look at all,” Kelly said.
Inspired to shift the paradigm, Kelly founded Bridge 2 Technology, an online platform with the potential to shrink the divide between Corporate America and the talent pool of Black people and people of color and minority-owned businesses.
The platform, which launched Friday, took nearly two years to build. It is designed to make Black candidates accessible to corporations, connect Black-owned businesses with major corporations, pair young employees with experienced workers for mentorship, teach small-business owners how to raise capital and make valuations of their companies, among other intentions — all to make it convenient for companies seeking diverse talent and minority partners to have a vast catalog of options at their disposal.
MarketWatch reported last year that only 3.7 percent of Google workers are Black; so are fewer than 4 percent at Facebook, and 7.5 percent at Uber.
“Over the last 30 years, the diversity as it relates to Black professionals in technology and the workforce in general has been lacking, to say the least,” Kelly said. “If we are serious about closing this gap, technology has to be at the forefront.”
The introduction of B2T coincides with the monthly national jobs report released Friday that determined unemployment among Black people continues to be the highest in the nation, at 7.9 percent, even though it fell from 8.8 percent in August.
Those numbers crystalize why Kelly believes B2T’s comprehensive new platform is needed and will be a factor in ultimately addressing the equality gap. It is also significant that, according to a Korn Ferry study, by 2030, demand for skilled workers will exceed supply, resulting in a global talent shortage of more than 85.2 million people.
Kelly said there are three major areas of focus to B2T: building economic equity; creating a pipeline of minority companies and professionals to connect with global organizations; providing mentors and sponsors for young or inexperienced workers to help them navigate the landscape of corporate America.
Several Fortune 500 corporations, including Dell, AT&T, Hewlett Packard and the Nasdaq, historically Black colleges Morgan State, Howard University and Morehouse College, among others, and diversity-focused nonprofit groups like Susan Taylor’s National Cares Mentoring Movement are among the first organizations granted early access to the platform.
“B2T understands that despite well-meaning intentions,” Kelly said, “the right tools and technology have not existed to support diverse talent, find opportunities with companies that value economic inclusion and equality — until now.”
“A platform like this is not only creating a greater level of awareness, but it’s also providing opportunities for them to know where the future talent is to diversify their workforce,” said David Wilson, president of Morgan State University in Baltimore. “So, this is a wonderful bridge between the talent and the opportunity. Absent a platform like this, there is a disconnect between the tech companies and that desire to diversify the workforce.”
Joseph B. Hill, the principal of a diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm, said platforms like Bridge 2 Technology can, among other things, eliminate an often-heard excuse from hiring managers. “This technology will take away the overused excuse of not being able to find people of color with talent,” he said. “Just in HBCUs alone are a boatload of candidates that most companies never consider, although they are filled with graduates with multiple skill sets.”
Morgan State, as an example, is one of a handful of colleges in the nation that offer degrees in cloud computing and mechatronics engineering, but Wilson said getting top-tier tech companies to recruit from his school has been a task.
“They are not taking these Black and brown young people and bringing them along,” he said. “Four percent of the engineering talent in this country is Black. That is shameful.
“So, I went out to Silicon Valley and I met with those firms. They were recruiting from eight to 10 schools in the country. And yet, you want to diversify your workforce? We are graduating 250 or so Black engineers a year. The Bridge 2 Technology will open those doors for tech firms to HBCUs, so they can clearly understand the incredible talent that resides beyond those doors.”
Keisha Hines of Coltrane Hype, a tech design company in Atlanta, built B2T. She is also a graduate of Morgan State.
“The competitive advantage that HBCUs have is that they do a lot with a little,” she said. “Just imagine if the resources are aligned, what the output will be.”
The idea of B2T was hatched by Kelly before the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis that ignited a massive social justice movement. In the aftermath, corporations pledged to address inequity issues. Kelly had already shared the concept in February 2020 with a group of some of the most influential Black leaders, including Nasdaq board member Al Zollar, Frederick Royal III, managing partner at JP Morgan Chase and Nordstrom board member Shellye Archambeau, at the inaugural Global Intellect Summit he organized after the participants rang the Nasdaq bell to end the day of trading on Wall Street.
The enthusiasm about B2T left Kelly excited.
In developing the platform, Hines said Kelly gave her “an empty canvas” to create.
“The process really was throwing a lot of things at the wall, and then peeling back,” Hines said. “We wanted to remove the barrier of access. The objective was to bring a company’s whole self to a community of resources. On the other hand, someone may not understand what questions he needs to ask when he’s in a supplier interview. Or an owner may not understand how to get a valuation done on his company. Bridge 2 Technology will get those questions answered.
“The connections made will not be one time,” Kelly said. “We created a viable, sustainable, scalable ecosystem that supports each business owner and business provider at each stage in their journey..”
Kelly has used the better part of three years to build relationships with dozens of Black organizations that have databases that total in the hundreds of thousands. His corporate relationships are extensive, in the public and private sector, he said, adding that the platform is about 70 percent focused on minority business-to-major corporations and 30 percent business-to-professionals.
“There is a disconnect between the tech companies and that desire to diversify the workforce,” Davis of Morgan State said. “So you have to create a high degree of intentionality, a bridge to those opportunities. And that is what is important about Bridge 2 Technology. It’s built the bridge.”
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