Going Beyond Black History Month
Around this time of year in the United States, African-Americans are often tasked with explaining why we spend 28 (or in the case of a leap year 29) days celebrating the contributions our ancestors made to this country. It may come in the form of responding to ignorant questions posed in learning environments or expressed in well-crafted articles lauding the relevancy of Black history in our modern time.
Black history is not only relevant, it is how we ensure that our heroes are not forgotten and that we have a viable future in our respective industries. As Carter G. Woodson famously said, “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
As the US leaders of Afroflare, Cloudflare’s employee resource group (ERG) for employees of African descent, we made a personal commitment this month and beyond to effectively represent, build, and grow at Cloudflare and in the tech industry.
To honor that commitment, we decided to tackle some commonly asked questions about the state of African-Americans in tech.
How many African-Americans work in tech?
The latest report on diversity in high tech from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in May 2016, indicated African-Americans made up 7.4% of the high tech workforce, with less than 1% in Manager or Executive roles.
An updated report hasn’t been released, but according to USA Today, Wired, and Fortune, Black workers made up between 1% and 6% of Black of the tech workforce from 2018-2019.
What are the barriers to increasing those numbers?
According to the EEOC, some factors driving the lack of diversity in high tech include:
- The “pipeline” problem – traditional recruiting efforts depend heavily on individuals’ personal networks, which in the US, are typically not diverse.
- The inhospitable culture in relevant industries and occupations forcing women and minorities to tolerate the environment or leave the field.
- The reluctance of high tech companies to train new employees.
- The fast-changing nature of the industry.
How can I work to create more inclusion in tech?
The future of African-Americans in tech is dependent on the concerted and consistent effort of all high tech employees and departments.
Recruiters can build a more diverse pipeline by building relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), attending events like Afrotech, or partnering with organizations whose mission is aligned with increasing diversity in tech. We have highlighted a few notable organizations below.
Black Girls Code, founded in April 2011, focuses on teaching young African-American girls how to code in several programming languages. They hope to “bridge the digital divide” in a society that pits underrepresented, young, aspiring, girls against more privileged individuals. They aim to “provide African-American youth with the skills to occupy some of the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available in the U.S. by 2020, and to train 1 million girls by 2040.”
/dev/color is a non-profit foundation led by supporters of inclusion in the tech industry with a mission to “empower Black software engineers to help one another grow into industry leaders.” /dev/color does this by focusing on helping individuals find new jobs, assist with start-ups, and most importantly, ensure that engineers find a sense of purpose in their careers and in tech.
Project Include uses data and advocacy to push diversity and inclusion initiatives in high tech. They work with companies to implement diversity initiatives that focus on three core concepts: inclusion, comprehensiveness, and accountability. Project Include shares a powerful message about what it takes to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to diversity:
“Change is hard, especially around a multidimensional issue like diversity. It is easy for all of us to become defensive and emotional, to shift the blame to others, and to feel fundamentally unheard or misunderstood. It is so uncomfortable for us to talk about the diversity problem that we have not been able to acknowledge it in full.”
These are a few of the many tech events and organizations working to solve this problem. However, doing this work takes more than just money. It involves having difficult conversations, training employees on ally skills, and supporting ERGs to celebrate and educate tech companies on different experiences, which is what we do here at Cloudflare.
As Cloudflarians, we come to work every day to build a better Internet. As Afroflarians, we want to acknowledge the current industry problems around inclusion and work tirelessly to build a better tech industry that welcomes and supports everyone. Not just during Black History Month, but always.
We urge you to do the same.
Afroflare at Afrotech in Oakland (November 2019)Afroflare at Afrotech in Oakland (November 2019)Afroflare at Afrotech in Oakland (November 2019)