Protests around the country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while in police custody are reigniting discussion of black representation in the technology sector.
Despite yearslong efforts by companies to diversify their tech workforces, black people accounted for 7.8% of people in core information-technology occupations in the U.S., according to CompTIA, an IT trade group.
Several black tech executives said they hope the current attention on racial disparities will bring change, and in turn, expand the participation of blacks in technology in ways they haven’t seen before.
“The awakening is happening because people are willing to have those conversations and go a few layers deeper,” said Claude Johnson, a former executive who has held management and executive positions with companies including
International Business Machines Corp.,
American Express Co.
and NBA Properties Inc.
Increasing corporate diversity helps, but that isn’t the complete answer, he said. “Below the surface, is a 400-year-old problem, a disease, a disease white people have. It is not a black problem. Address it with more diversity, yes, but why is it there in the first place?” said Mr. Johnson, who is now the founder and executive director of The Black Fives Foundation, which preserves the history of pre-NBA era African-American basketball.
He likened what is happening now to the arrival of a new technology that some people don’t like.
“We see it in tech. There is always resistance in tech to the next thing, but it is inevitable. It doesn’t matter if you object, it is here. It is the same thing here.”
Tony West, senior vice president and chief legal officer at
Uber Technologies Inc.,
said the tech industry “has to get this right.” That is because technology plays such a powerful role in society and has the potential to address issues including police accountability.
“I think it also forced many of us to look in the mirror and ask, you know, what am I doing to advance racial equality?…Is what I’m doing to support black lives enough?” said Mr. West, who is also black.
Mr. West said one way companies can do so is to revamp hiring, promotion and even vendor procurement practices—and tie diversity-and-inclusion outcomes to executive compensation. “This way, we’re not only sure that we’re improving our own D & I goals, we’re also pushing others to reflect the values that we find important.”
Sherri Smith, editor in chief of Laptop Mag, says her career covering the technology sector was buoyed by mentorships from other African-American journalists: “The jobs I got were because people reached out to me,” she said, “and I want to pay it forward for people who look like me.”
It goes beyond hiring for diversity, to increasing the ranks of African-Americans at all levels of tech, including the C-suite and the boardroom and in venture capital, said Will Griffin, chief ethics officer of artificial-intelligence company Hypergiant Industries.
Also, he said blacks need to be given equity stakes in tech companies they join, which can lead to wealth creation to help them start their own companies. “Too often, on the African-American side, the company is sold, we didn’t have equity, so then we go get another job.”
Mr. Griffin said his family has roots in the Third Ward of Houston, which is where George Floyd was from. “It hit home when he was killed and then when you see the videos of him talking, you hear it, like, that sounds like a homeboy.”
Many companies are now sponsoring inclusivity-oriented sessions or policies, said Daryl Plummer, vice president and chief of research at
He also is chairman of the company’s black analyst caucus. “However, when that happens,” he said, “everyone realizes how few black faces are among the people deciding which policies or sessions to create.”
Adam Stanley, global chief information officer of real-estate-services company
Cushman & Wakefield,
said companies often say they are unable to find qualified black candidates.
“If your profits aren’t high, you work your tail off to find more. For some reason in the diversity space we for years talk about it but never really move the needle much.”
—Kim S. Nash, Angus Loten and Steven Rosenbush contributed to this article.
Write to Jared Council at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Credit: Source link