Race In Tech, Part Two: Being ‘The Only’
Being “the only.” It is a phrase that has come up time and time again as I speak to my colleagues of color. Many of them speak of being the only person who is Black, Latinx or Asian in the room, in the company, in the entire building. As they dig deeper into the feeling of being “the only,” they speak of being exhausted, of feeling they are representing their entire race or gender and of the feeling they don’t belong.
Have you ever stepped into a room and realized you were “the only”? A couple of years ago, I was concerned about the lack of gender diversity in a CIO networking group I manage. I asked one of the female members why she and others didn’t attend often, if at all. Her response was: “I don’t know, let’s ask.” With that, I found myself invited to a dinner party with 20 women IT leaders. I was petrified and uncomfortable. I felt I was representing all men — and these were all women I knew, respected and counted as friends.
I am in no way suggesting that one dinner party equates to what many experience day in and day out their entire lives. I can never begin to feel nor understand what that is like. What it did do, however, was open my eyes to some of the issues related to diversity and inclusion.
Their answer? After spending day after day being “the only woman” in meetings — perhaps even “the only” in their departments — they were exhausted. Why would they attend yet another event and be “the only”?MORE FOR YOUWhy Now Is The Perfect Time For Female Founded Fashion-Tech StartupsRandi Zuckerberg Tells African Tech Conference, ‘We Are In A Global Hackathon’Meet The Best Company Workplace Culture Awards 2020—According To Comparably
In part one of this series, we took a look “Inside The Numbers.” In part two, I want to highlight a few organizations that are helping our diverse colleagues find community, support and a “safe space” among others who know what it’s like to be “the only,” as well as ways we can all get involved.
BDPA was born in 1975 as the Black Data Processing Association. As BDPA national president Terry Morris discussed on my “Status Go” podcast, its mission then — as it is now — was to create a place for Black and African Americans to grow, develop and nurture each other. Over the years, it has grown in numbers and in programs. Today, BPDA is a place for all minorities to advance their careers, from the classroom to the boardroom, including conducting competitions for everyone from high school students to Ph.D. candidates.
/dev/color is an organization whose mission is to provide Black software engineers with the support they need to grow into industry leaders. While providing insights into the group’s history, mission and its foundation of members helping members, director of programs Cynthia Billops noted on “Status Go” that after starting in 2015 with fewer than a dozen members, the organization has grown to over 500 members, with squads in San Francisco, New York City, Atlanta and Seattle.
Founded in 2015, Techqueria has grown to over 11,000 members in seven active chapters. Through its programs, it empowers Latinx professionals with the “resources and support that they need to thrive and become leaders in the tech industry.” Its members work in product, design and engineering roles. The organization also works with employee resource groups to provide career advice, mentorship and networking. The organization launched a podcast earlier this year, hosted by tech reporter Jose Fermoso, that features topics affecting Latinx people.
A group that can often feel overlooked in the diversity, equity and inclusion conversation are people who are Asian-American. The National Association of Asian-American Professionals, while not exclusively focused on the tech professional, is an organization that “cultivates and empowers Asian & Pacific Islander leaders through leadership development, professional networking, and community service.” Throughout its 38 years, the organization has grown to 25 chapters across the country. NAAAP’s job board currently shows over 100 positions in tech across the country.
Now Is The Time
These are four examples of organizations building communities, supporting communities and growing leaders. If you know of others, I would love to learn about them.
In the meantime, now is the time to get involved. If you are a member of one of these communities, consider reaching out to them and becoming a part of their organization. Support the other members and help them grow.
If you are not a member of these communities, I encourage you to research them and learn more about them. Get involved.
• Volunteer: Many of the organizations survive through the efforts of volunteers. Seek out ways that you can volunteer.
• Attend Events: Attending is a great way to show your support, and it’s a great way to learn and diversify your network.
• Donate: All of the organizations I mentioned are nonprofits. They could all use additional financial resources to carry out their missions.
• Sponsor: Advocate within your company for sponsorship of the organizations or their events. Sponsorships are difficult for some nonprofits to obtain in this current “all events are virtual” world, and I am sure they would appreciate sharing their story with you.
• Hire: Hire diverse candidates. Go to them. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Use these organizations as another source of candidates for your open positions.
Here is a bonus idea for involvement. The next time you enter a room, look around. Is there someone there who is “the only”? Consider introducing yourself to them, making them feel welcome, helping them feel they are not “the only” and including them in the group. If it was you, I believe you would appreciate it.
In part three of “Race in Tech,” we will look at one of the top reasons companies give when they don’t hire a diverse workforce — the talent pipeline.