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Being Black in Tech: How Do We Navigate the Industry?

Hotwire Global

We can’t believe AfroTech Conference 2022 is nearly here. It’s been a busy lead-up to the event and the team has been hard at work behind the scenes preparing for a successful touch-down in Austin! With this being the first time the event is back in person since 2019, the Hotwire team is ready to show up, connect, learn, and make the most of this exciting experience.  

To gauge how we’re feeling as the countdown continues and to talk through some of the aspects we’re most excited about, Global Content Strategist, Alexcia Lewis, and Global VP of Marketing, Nicholas Love, spoke through some of the reasons why conferences like AfroTech are so crucial to the culture, and seasoned AfroTech attendee, Alexcia, shared some tips for first time goers.

If you haven’t given the podcast conversation a listen yet, check that out here. Otherwise, read below for a recap of the discussion.

As a first-time goer, what can be expected from #AFROTECH22? 

If we want to put it into two words: black excellence. Which is something that we can agree is not amplified nearly enough. Of course, more attention has gone toward it since the summer of 2020, but I think one of the goals of AfroTech and once of the reasons it was created in the first place is to say, “we’ve always been here.” And to continue to develop our skills and our knowledge and to, again, just amplify ourselves within the majority, and that’s why we have AfroTech.  

How do we define Black excellence?  

Black excellence means showing up and showing out. It means that we’re able to show up and wear our hair the way we want to, use the vernacular that is unique to our culture, and then at the same time, leverage that to showcase that our culture is not just an alternative, but is equally worthy of being celebrated across every industry. We can see when we look at Black history in this country that those who have made an incredible mark have done so without compromising who they are. And there’s something to be said for that.  

Setting the temperature 

I remember a conversation that was had the other day where I made the statement that I’m someone who sets the temperature, I don’t adjust to it. And I think through the lens of black excellence, I love what you said earlier—that we’ve always been here. And recognizing, embracing, and amplifying the intelligence, the swagger, the style, and the nuances that we bring to the forefront and really understanding that we deserve everything that has been withheld from us for centuries, through whatever roadblock and obstacles that have been put in front of us and so many of our ancestors, we as a people will continue to rise, to thrive, to innovate and accelerate the dopeness from a culture perspective of which many people are tapping into.  

What is the recommendation on HOW to really experience #AFROTECH22? 

AfroTech can be the time of your life. This is about affirming that our path is different— and understanding that those of us trying to develop our careers and understand our roles as leaders— the path is different so we need different tools and resources. I would encourage you to come correct, be yourself, have a learning mindset, and come with knowledge that you don’t have to hide. But at the same time be on your Ps and Qs—take some time to really sit and consider what do I bring to the table and how can I actually align with people that have the same struggles as me and those who have overcome those struggles? 

Understand that this is a space to feel safe and comfortable. I always say, this is a place where you can wear your knotless braids. Bring your full self and know who you are. This is not a place where you need to compete. 

What are some of the challenges for Black men in the corporate/ tech space? For example, when passion is misdiagnosed for anger. Thoughts on that? 

I can’t speak to the male experience but there are some similarities there, like when you brought up having to always be “on” when on a zoom meeting. A mutual friend of ours was also just talking about our hair— having to make sure that you’re overly presentable, that you’re easy to swallow in a sense. You have to make sure that you’re not ruffling any feathers, or making the majority feel uncomfortable. Historically we as a people have had to make white people feel comfortable. In order to succeed, or to just be present, or for us to just sit next to them, it came with the cost of having to act as close to them as possible and leave the “ghetto” at the door, so to speak. This comes with a history of always being perceived as violent or aggressive. 

Just working in white spaces, I’ve seen the way that some can react when a black man or woman is just asserting their point and it’s received as aggressive or combative. This needs to be talked about. Why do I have to tone it down? Why does you asserting yourself look like passion and mine looks like violence, or an attitude? 

So, when we’re showing up as our full selves, we’re addressing that we’re not here to make you feel comfortable. I’m here to show up as I am: melanin and all, shea butter and all. 

Ideators vs. their ideas 

I’ve always thought ideas are better when they compete. As an ideator, you should never fall in love with an idea. When you fall in love with an idea, you begin to personalize it. You should want your ideas to be challenged and picked apart, because it will either reveal that there were gaps in the idea or that the idea just hasn’t been articulated to a good enough extent. 

I’ve always had to think about how I challenge on the premise of an idea, even when never challenging the person but purely the idea. I have to think about what I say and how it being said. And there times still, even when it’s said in the most delicate or nice way, there is an issue. As if to say, how dare I question the idea that was put in front of me. So sometimes you have to ask the question, was this really about the idea or is this about the person’s ethnicity who challenged the respective idea? 

And this is why these topics circle back to AfroTech so well. Having the conversations around navigating these particular spaces. Having the conversations around the role of emotional intelligence, professional maturity, and situational awareness. It’s so crucial to hear about the perspective of others who have been able to navigate these different scenarios, and navigate them authentically, never compromising themselves, while still being successful in their respective careers. 

Navigating a transactional world 

We have to navigate professional spaces in a very specific way. Organizations can present very attractive values—name recognition, various perks, flexibility, access to industries, etc. But there are also assets the employee brings to the table— their work experience, their respective reputation, bringing forward new clients, etc. So that employee and that company have a transactional relationship. I’m offering you something and you’re offering me something. Everyone is not replaceable. I hate that statement that positions are refillable, because the equity and the impact, or the relationships, or whatever it may be, is not replaceable. One of the keynote topics at AfroTech speaks about letting your technologists thrive, keeping star performers engaged through upskilling and opportunities to create. What people have to realize is that as an organization, as a leader, manager, etc, you have a responsibility to create effective experiences that allow people who are under you to feel as if they’re being nurtured, developed, that they belong and are supported. And as an employee, you have a responsibility to bring it.  

In terms of compensation, there have been instances where I knew I was being underpaid… How do you navigate that? First, you need to understand what is your brand within the organization is. Your brand image is not what you say but the thoughts, feelings and experiences that people around you have about you. What is your understanding of your impact from a brand perspective? What does your leader, manager, etc. value and does what you bring align with what they value? If you know that you’re bringing it and not being recognized for that then it’s time to look elsewhere, because life is too short to stay where you’re not appreciated and embraced, and having to fight tooth and nail for the things you deserve. The workforce is too competitive right now for you to have to be dealing with that. All organizations are engaging in a talent war right now. 

But it has to go both ways; One, the organization has to create an environment that is desirable for you to want to stay in. Two, the employee has to create a reason that is attractive for them to be maintained. 

What sessions are we most excited about at #AFROTECH22? 

Intuit is presenting a session called Building a Brand That Matters, so as a Content Marketing Strategist, this is a great session to sit in on. Michael Mitchell, Senior Brand Director at Intuit is leading this and we’re expecting to learn how to really make a measurable impact at our organization. 

Another session we’re excited about is Understanding Energy Management and Burnout Recovery with Nova Nicole, Senior Leadership Development Facilitator. It’s tough to navigate guard rails when you’re a high performer. Where do you draw the line? 

Finally, there’s also Journey to Executive with Cristina Jones, Kelly Buchanan Spillers and Krista Bourne. An opportunity to hear from three prominent black women and what their stories are. We’re really looking forward to seeing what their pathways have been and seeing how their journeys have led them to where they are, what has worked for them and what hasn’t.