The conversation dominating diversity and inclusion in tech is largely centered around the numbers—namely, how many women and underrepresented minorities comprise the workforces of top tech companies. But what lived experiences, worldviews, and perspectives are represented by the folks who comprise those numbers?
If your parents were survivors of segregation and the Jim Crow South, you might, for example, be skeptical of companies touting their inclusive culture when their board of advisors is comprised of 95% white males. On the other hand, if you were socialized in a way that equipped you with the tools to thrive in largely-white, homogenous spaces, you might have understandably grown weary of diversity and inclusion conversations since they don’t seem relevant to your lived experience.
These worldviews aren’t mutually exclusive, either. One of the dehumanizing aspects of racism’s legacy in the United States is that stereotypes continue to pervade our national consciousness. The reason I started Abernathy was to provide a counterpoint to the reductive ways in which black men are portrayed in the media. My friend Will Madison isn’t one of the best black software engineers I know, he’s one of the best software engineers I know, period. By the same token, Raye Montague wasn’t just the first black person or the first woman to design a US Navy ship via computer, she was the first human being to do so. We do a disservice to stories like these by relegating them to Black History Month and diversity campaigns.
The tokenizing of African Americans by the media and ill-informed marketing executives contributes to the problems hiring managers are facing: it’s not a lack of opportunity that’s at the root of poor representation, it’s the lack of trust. The whitewashing of United States history has resulted in a cultural amnesia and ignorance that continues to divide our nation. And so I think of myself as a trust broker in my work as an inclusion strategist—I sit at the intersection of an eminently qualified audience of black professionals, and a growing cadre of thoughtful organizations looking to build trust and rapport with them.
No amount of budget can overcome a lack of trust, and the highest-leverage elements of trust are completely free in fact: courage, a willingness to make mistakes, and a reputation for telling the whole truth.
No shortcuts, sorry.