Increasing The Black Workforce % in Tech: A Practical Guide to Change

BYP Network, Paystack, Gro Intelligence – three seemingly unconnected corporations in three separate continents, but they have one thing in common. They are some of the few, well-invested companies that have black founders.

As recently as June 2020, it was quoted that black founders receive <1% of venture capital. Given that a significant amount of venture capital funding goes to the technology sector, the knock-on effects are that in the UK’s tech hub London, black people only make up 3% of tech workers, despite being 13% of London’s population.

Perhaps shocking, perhaps not, - what’s more startling is that these stats are replicated across many other areas such as politics, company leadership, and even sport...

For some, this isn’t new - cries for change from black people all over the world have been going on from around the from long before last summer’s BLM protests – however, it does seem that this is a period of mass buy in and more people want things to change.

So how do we actually influence industries like tech to make said changes. Based on the principles from a recent read, Influence: The Art of Persuasion, here are some practical suggestions to influence a change.

Step 1: Empathy

On both sides.

On one side, we need to acknowledge that problems are real, deep-rooted and harmful; on the other, we must acknowledge that recognising this doesn’t come overnight and for most of us there’s a lot of learning and unlearning to do.

When someone says racism is real it doesn’t require a defence, and when someone genuinely critiques an argument it’s not necessarily provocative. Before change starts, we must understand that other people have different experiences and perspectives. Once we can do that, then conversation can begin.

NB: this is not an argument for conversing with those who play devil’s advocate with no intention of ever wanting to enact change, rather this is for those who want change but don’t know where or how to begin.

Step 2: Listening (Active Listening)

Once we accept that it’s not a shouting match and there’s a degree of understanding, it’s time for conversation. While listening is a two-way street, truthfully, for leaders who understand that problems are real and want to make an impact, this probably means doing more listening than talking.

Not the type of listening where you zone out waiting for chance to argue your point, nor is it the type where you cut people off at any opportunity.

Rather, it is hearing, reflecting and even challenging yourself on what’s been said.

Setting up environments for open dialogue, such as KPMG’s Reverse Mentoring Programme where black colleagues were given the opportunity to have this open dialogue with partners, are a great example of how to do this in a practical way.

Step 3: Attention

Perhaps my greatest takeaway from Influence. None of the other steps mentioned matter if nobody’s listening. You can make the best articulated points and make the biggest plans, but if nobody’s paying attention you might as well be talking to a brick wall.

Like I said before, nothing that hasn’t been said in the last six months hadn’t been said in the last 6 years or centuries. A good example is that the harrowing Netflix documentary 13th, which gained a lot of attention last summer, actually came out in 2016.

In January 2021, however, people are finally paying attention, but what’s changed? Social Media, George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent BLM protests meant that changing the black narrative finally couldn’t be ignored.

STEP 4: Set Clear and SMART Goals

What’s a self-help post without goals, and what are goals without SMART being mentioned.

Smart. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Time-based.

Without tangible goals, promises around “increasing diversity” or “building inclusive workforces” are just empty promises and, at worst, a gimmick.

Goal 1 is to “increase diversity”, whereas goal 2 is to: “Recruit 5 senior black hires across our development team over the next 12 months using: our existing network, black-specific job boards and/or working with black-centric partners”. Which goal is most likely to gain momentum & support, have a direction and actually work?

SMART goals can be applied to your New Year’s resolutions, your career goals and they must be applied to any “diversity” initiatives you set.

Step 5: Choose Your Words Carefully

Although it’s said that words (i.e. not tone or body language) only make up 7% of communication, the words you choose can still make all the difference. This is the case in job interviews, negotiations or simply asking for your favours.

It is also the case for recruitment, where internal biases, however hard you try can still come up in the job descriptions you write. To the point that you may end up writing the job for someone who looks like you… and everyone else you’ve previously hired.

It’s not easy to recognise unconscious bias in your language, but there is information to educate yourself on how it occurs and tools, such as Applied that can be used to prevent it happening.

Step 6: Work With People Who Know What They’re Talking About

This is something that I have noticed more and more people taking on board. No one can be an expert in everything and nobody expects you to either.

If you’ve spent 30 years advising C suite on their accounting processes, it’s not mandatory, or even expected, that this skillset lends itself to tackling deep-rooted diversity issues.

While step 1 is empathy and caring. Step 6 is about hiring and partnering with the experts who can shape your vision and then make it a reality. That means hiring a D&I officer and/or consultants, using recruiters/job boards who have access to black candidates and building a network of partners who know what good looks like.

Step 7: Show me the money.

Going back to SMART goals, words without action are empty promises and plans without funding are wasted opportunities.

If it’s a real goal, it needs a budget. Hire the right people. Work with the right partners. Fund black entrepreneurs. Employ black staff and/or work with black businesses/freelancers.

And on a micro/personal level - shop with black businesses and help them grow.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of initiatives that are needed to increase black representation in tech (though it can be applied to any industry) and, of course, that’s why Step 6 is so important as you need a team that can build a strategy around this.

However, at a high-level it’s my belief that a lot can be done in any arena when there’s desire, patience, specific goals and, of course, a bit of money.

We know what good recruitment looks like, our partners know what inclusive looks like. Check our friends Coding Black Females, if you want to increase the black representation in tech and work with the experts who know how.

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