In honor of Black History Month, I put together a list of things you can do to support Black people in tech. This is by no means an exhaustive list, it is one that strongly reflects my own community experiences. I have only come into contact with a fraction of the organizations that support Black people in tech and recognize I am not elevating every organization that does important work in this space. If you have more recommendations, please include them in the comments and, most importantly, share them with your friends and colleagues!
Consider why it’s important to support Black people in tech in the first place. Take time to acknowledge your own personal biases (conscious or unconscious). Have these negatively affected your working relationships or created unsupportive, possibly even hostile, environments for Black people to work in? If you’re responsible for microaggressions, what can you do to change that? What can you do to minimize harm?
I recommend reading this article written by a Black woman about her experiences to help illuminate some of the issues.
Recognize and advocate for Black tech organizations and spaces. I have witnessed and experienced dissent against providing underrepresented groups with their own place to grow, network, and learn. It can’t be clarified any better than the DC-based organization, Black Code Collective, does here.
Examine the diversity of your team and organization. If you have few or no Black teammates at all, why is that? What can you do to change it? If your applicant pool never includes Black people, there’s a reason, and it’s not a pipeline problem. The networks of Black tech workers aren’t aware of your job openings. You can change that by posting on job boards aimed towards diverse applicants like Diversify Tech or work with companies like Black Tech Pipeline.
What is your company’s D&I Strategy? Do they have one at all? If not, you could be the change maker to advocate for one. Some companies hire an executive to oversee D&I and some bring in consultants. Implore management to consider hiring a professional for this initiative. It is important to understand that D&I work needs to be ongoing and evolving in order to have an impact. A one-time diversity training won’t meet the needs that real change requires.
Companies may also see the benefit of sponsoring organizations that support Black tech workers in their community. Can they provide a monetary donation? Can the organization use your office space for meet-ups and other events?
How can you create or contribute to an inclusive culture that allows your organization to retain Black talent? Inclusive behavior requires awareness and explicit support, which can be found in a company’s mission statement, code of conduct, D&I group statement or employee resource groups.
On a more personal level, I encourage you to watch for microaggressions your Black colleagues experience. When they do occur, step in or ask your team to be more aware, whether in public or private. For example, if you notice a Black colleague has been interrupted during a meeting, ask them to finish their thoughts before the topic changes. If your team uses problematic technical language (e.g. master/slave, whitelist/blacklist), advocate for substitutes like agency/operatives and allow list/deny list.
Be intentional about the network you build. Are you only rubbing elbows in white spaces? Can you make an effort to attend professional events with more diverse attendees? As a white woman in tech, I am likely made aware of more opportunities for career advancement. When I share these opportunities with my white network, I perpetuate the cycle. If my network includes Black technologists, I am able to contribute to making tech more equitable. In the same vein, if I’m only offering advice or mentorship to white technologists, I am creating more white privilege.
Donate to organizations that are doing the work to support Black people in tech. I recommend Black Girls Code. With teams in 15+ major metropolitan areas in the US, their mission is stated as such: “to increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields.”
They accomplish this by providing workshops, hackathons, and other educational events for Black girls to introduce them to technology and provide educational avenues they might not otherwise have. Donate here.
Are you listening to Black voices? Commit to learning more in a way that works for your learning style. This might include listening to tech podcasts hosted by Black people (e.g. Black Tech Unplugged or Git Cute), following more Black people in tech on Twitter, educating yourself through research published regarding racial disparity in the workplace or reading books or articles on a regular basis.
Recognize and celebrate the work of Black technologists whenever the opportunity presents itself. This might be showing appreciation during a sprint retrospective, privately giving praise about their work to managers and higher-ups or nominating them for community awards, such as The Women Who Code Engineers to Watch List or The DCFemTech Awards.
If you’re a tech community organizer, ensure the speakers at your event are diverse. If Black people aren’t applying to speak or host workshops in your formal channels, ask them directly if they’d be interested. Reach out to networks outside your own to advertise opportunities. If you’re representing a technology in a particular community, you’re responsible for representing all the users in that community. Not doing so perpetuates the harmful idea that said technology is only used by certain demographics and all experts are of certain demographics.
Buy some of this amazing Black Code Collective swag so you can donate to an amazing organization, show your support, and look dope AF.
At the end of the day, your work to be anti-racist needs to be explicit, intentional, and constantly evolving. This is a muscle which continues to grow stronger as you learn more and do more. We will always have room for improvement in understanding problems and implementing solutions. If you take anything away from this list, I hope you’ll consider both your impact and ability to affect change.