Challenge: Being Black In The Tech Industry

Challenge: Being Black In The Tech Industry

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On NPR's All Things Considered, Professor, author and CEO of Clearly Innovative, Aaron Saunders talks about the challenges of being African-American in the tech industry.

From the transcript:

WESTERVELT: In your early years starting out, how common was it to run into other African-Americans in the tech field?

SAUNDERS: It was nonexistent. In the early years and even after - you know, when I was working in New York in the '80s, I was a consultant for IBM. And I would go into meetings, and they were literally no other people of color in the room on either side of the table in most cases. I was senior-level architect. I would lead teams; I would lead projects and I spent a lot of time doing client-facing work. I would usually go into meetings and sit down and far too often, the client assumed that the person next to me was Aaron Saunders and that I was not Aaron Saunders the architect. And the person next to me was not African-American. It was very frustrating because especially in the consulting business, you're basically selling yourself, right? You're walking in a room; you're telling the client hey, we're going to get this done for you. Please pay us a lot of money to do this before you even do any work. And I think for African-Americans it's a huge challenge because people come to the table with preconceived notions about our capabilities and what we can do. So you have to try even harder to get that point across that yes, I can get this done for you, yes, I am capable, yes, I belong here.

WESTERVELT: Silicon Valley tech companies have pledged to do more to create a more diverse workforce. Why do you think it's taking so long and it's so hard for them?

SAUNDERS: Because there aren't any black people there. I mean, you're - you know what I mean? It's real simple. As well-intentioned as they are, right, it's still challenging for a room full of nondiverse people to figure out how to address diversity, right? I know there's a big push right now to address the lack of diversity in tech through HBCUs.

See the full transcript and listen to the broadcast:

Being Black In The Tech Industry