4 mins, 22 secs read time
What do you get when you bring together 25,000 bright minds for an innovative Black tech conference in Austin, Texas? Creativity, networking, learning and a collective sense of belonging.
The event held Nov 14–17 was buzzing with excitement, with full and packed programming ranging from fireside chats to an exclusive screening of Disney’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Musical guests like Bas, Bia, MÉLA, Zaytoven and Wale also lit up the stages daily.
Outside of the amazing entertainment, there were impactful conversations happening at every turn, focused on all areas of Black growth, like financial independence (including a casual conversation with entrepreneurial billionaire Mark Cuban), career growth and well-being.
Even external events in the area, like the Sneaker Jam featuring Greenhouse IDEA Program Manager Nia Darville, attracted crowds for their focus on so-often-forgotten topics like Black mental health.
One thing that rang true throughout the programming, no matter the topic, was the undisputed importance of not only diversity in tech, but also inclusion and belonging – and the need to take collective steps toward change. Here are three key takeaways that you can apply, for yourself, your team and your organization, that will help you build a better foundation for inclusivity.
1. *Actually* allow people to be their whole selves
Maybe your company career page says that you put people first – but do you really? According to the Greenhouse survey on company catfishing, “45% of candidates have rejected positions after being catfished during the employer interview process.” This means that they were misled during the interview process and the company’s employer brand did not reflect the reality of the organization.
Great talent gets great choices. They’re looking for organizations that will support them to be their best selves and allow them to thrive. Speaking about authenticity, the Director of Equitable Partnerships Belle Meade Historic Site & Winery, Brigette Jones, said, “We're expected to take up space, but only in a way that makes other people comfortable. Employers might 'quiet fire' you just because you're being yourself at work.”
By allowing people to be their whole selves, you’re also inviting them to bring their unique ideas, skill sets and learnings to the table and creating a feeling of security and belonging that strengthens retention. It’s a win-win.
You have to own your experience and journey because it's what makes you authentic.
Frederick Hutson, CEO of Pigeon.ly, at AFROTECH 2022
2. Representation is even more important than you think
You can’t be what you can’t see – well you can, but it’s incredibly challenging. One of the big topics of conversation throughout the event was representation – and rightfully so. According to a 2022 report from The Kapor Center and the NAACP, “Despite efforts from tech firms, the proportion of Black professionals in technical roles at large tech companies increased just 1% between 2014 and 2021.”
This is due to a number of issues, like companies' diversity being so abysmal that even when they finally do secure talent from historically underrepresented communities, those new hires feel a disconnect in belonging and leave, creating a revolving door for great diverse talent.
Or maybe it’s the age-old thinking some leaders have that not enough Black tech talent exists. Plot twist: they’re not looking hard enough.
There are also bigger implications of lack of representation. With more and more conversations centering around AI, whether in hiring, advertising, or any tool that’s supposed to make our lives easier, we have to be careful. If there’s a lack of diversity in the people creating the tech that makes these decisions – spoiler alert – the AI will also be biased.
Create a space for yourself at the table, but also save space for other people so they can fight the fight with you.
Tim Hinshaw, Head of Hip Hop and R&B at Amazon Music, at AFROTECH 2022
3. Don’t prioritize profit over your purpose or your people
Some people may have paused when reading that, but it’s a reasonable mentality for success. Bestselling author, producer and businessman Touré Roberts mentioned in his AFROTECH session that “Things will never work if you put profit over purpose. This does not allow you to have an abundance mentality because you will be overlooking your purpose."
Business success is no longer only about the capacity to scale quickly. That will only get you so far. It’s now also about the ability to create a strong company culture that allows your people to thrive – and that starts with purpose.
According to The 2020 Zeno Strength of Purpose Study, when consumers believe a brand has a strong purpose, they are four times more likely to purchase their products, six times more likely to protect the company in the event of a misstep and over four times more likely not only to trust but also to champion and recommend that company.
As the bestselling author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek puts it, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy it for why you do it.” Only the companies and brands that not only know their purpose, but also act on it and put people first will be successful long-term. It’s a no-brainer.
Learn how to empower Black employees by investing in their growth here.