Facebook recently made headlines again for racism in the workplace. Mark S Luckie’s letter went viral last year when describing racism at the social media platform and stating “Facebook has a black people problem.” Almost exactly a year later black Facebook staffers have crafted a new memo on the issue. The recent letter released may have been shocking to some, if you are black and have worked in tech you probably dealt with many, if not all of the issues addressed in the letter. The issue isn’t exclusive to Facebook whatsoever, they just are large enough to have a spotlight shown on it. Even Google’s annual diversity report showed that their attrition rates are the highest for black and Hispanic employees.
If you are black in tech, here are some issues you are going to have to deal with:
Getting Hired In The First place
Over the last 5 years I’ve heard co-workers spew hateful words about immigrants, boast unabashedly about gentrifying neighborhoods, mockingly imitate people who speak different languages, reject candidates of color without evidence because of ‘fit,’ Anonymous Google Employee Memo via Vice
Since the United States is one of the biggest exporters of tech, it is one of the fastest ways to improve your socioeconomic position. This upward mobility makes it especially important for black people to have careers in tech. Period. Consuming tech is fine, but empowerment, ownership and creation within tech is more important. Unfortunately there are barriers. USA Today is quoted ” Top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them” and on average, just 2% of technology workers at seven Silicon Valley companies that have released staffing numbers are black.
With keeping it real…your HBCU degree is going to make it tougher to break into tech as it is all about connections. And if you have a “black name” it is only going to be harder. You might have to “whiten your resume” if you do not already have the right connections.
There are plenty of qualified black people in tech. Just look at the turnout for Afrotech:
You’ll Be The Only One, You May Get Lonely
On the inside, we are sad. Angry. Oppressed. Depressed. And treated every day through the micro and macro aggressions as if we do not belong here. FB Blind via Medium
Ahhhh so you actually made it through the hiring process! Congratulations! You found a company that shouted messages of diversity and inclusion all over their website and they even had the one video (or stock image) of the light skin black women, you know which one we are talking about. Well, sorry to inform you of this, but she does not work in your department with you, if she even exists.
If you do find the other black people at your place of employment, you may not want to spend too much time assembling with them, so that your peers do not think you’re lazy of course. To an extent, the black codes are still in effect and the right to assembly is punishable (in your case fireable), unless of course it is at a diversity event.
In my opinion, the microaggressions committed routinely against black people in the tech workplace may be the worst part of the situation. You most likely will not deal with outright prejudice, but I can guarantee that you will deal with some form of microaggression. Some that I have personally dealt with are comments about my name ( ex: I wonder if your emails are responded to less because of your name), skin tone, and have even had a former manager ask to touch my hair (it is awesome by the way).
Working in corporate isn’t easy for anyone regardless of race. However, if you are black in corporate you will need an extra set of scales to fend off all of the microaggressions. This will in turn paint you as either “aggressive”, “cold”, or “disengaged” to your peers or management. The reality is you are mentally exhausted from the mental gymnastics you have to play all the time in the workplace. The irony is that all of the microaggressions (most likely committed by your accusers) will probably make you actually feel aggressive inside. However, you cannot let these feeling slip out or it will affect your performance review…
You have to be twice as good…
While you might want to yell out “OK Boomer” to the “twice as good” advice black parents and grandparents have given to their offspring, you will in fact have to be better to get less unfortunately. There is a good chance you will inherit an extra crappy project that will make your challenge even harder. As a black tech employee, you may likely run into a scenario where you are outperforming your peers, yet you may not get as high of a raise or passed over for a promotion. This leads to the conclusion and the real solution to increasing black inclusion in tech:
Black Leadership in Tech
I challenge you to look at the leadership pages of a few tech companies in your local area after reading this article. I am willing to bet that there is a certain group of people with a certain amount of melanin noticeably missing.
Racism is about institutionalized power and tech is reinforcing that in America. Racism is not about someone overtly calling you out of your name or committing some individual act against you (that is discrimination, prejudice is how they feel). It is about the systems of power that do not allow people to get ahead. If tech companies are truly interested in solving the “black people problem” then they need to solve the power balance equation and hire more black leaders. Period.