Technology is all about solving problems, and the more diversity our teams have, the better they are at solving problems. That’s a fact– we all know that. However, we also know that the technology industry is struggling to diversify. This is especially true when it comes to black or latinx employees. Why are things the way they are and what can we do about them?
To answer these questions, I’ve interviewed Pariss Athena, the creator of the #blacktechtwitter movement and community. She is also the founder of Black Tech Pipeline. Black Tech Pipeline is a service-based platform that brings exposure, resources and opportunities to black technologists and their allies with a strong focus on retention. Pariss connects employers to candidates within her community and works with those companies on their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. I’ve learned so much from Pariss and I can’t wait to share our conversation with you. Let’s get into it!
Masha: We all know that in order to solve problems– and technology is all about solving problems– we need to have diverse teams, right? There’s been a ton of research on the topic. Despite companies trying to hire more diverse candidates, only 3.7% of Google’s employees are black and 5.9% Latino. The numbers are consistently low across other big tech companies as well. Why do you think that’s the case?
Pariss: Yeah, so I think they would most likely blame it on there being a pipeline problem. Um, there’s not a pipeline problem. The issue is really within that specific organization. The issue is the people who are in those roles of trying to find diverse talent. What these companies do is they wait for applicants to come through their own tracking system. If you want diverse candidates, you can’t do that. There’s a resource problem and problem with accessibility. Um, black and brown people were, unfortunately, coming from poor communities.
Those poor communities have a lack of resources. They’re not going to have the same access that someone in a better neighborhood would. If you think about it in terms of equity, you have to get up and find those people where they’re at. And let them know there’s these opportunities there, you know, there are these routes that you can take.
And so it’s the same thing. Once they get into this industry, which has already been built up mainly of like straight white men, um, what they do instead of kind of going out and finding diverse talent and doing that work, which takes a lot of energy and just work itself because that’s just what it is, what they do is they take the easy route and say: “Hey, I have a friend who just graduated from school.” “Hey, I had a friend who who’s looking for new opportunities.” And they’re just looking within their own networks. They’re not looking outside of it. They build up these companies with people who look like them, they come from the same backgrounds. That’s where they lack diversity– and diversity that you can actually see, you know?
Masha: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. And, um, yeah, that, that whole referral system is great, but then it’s inherently flawed. Unfortunately you are attracting talent that looks like the majority of the employees already. And you basically answered my next question, which was about the pipeline. I see that a lot that people are saying the pipeline is the issue. Um, however, it’s not, like you were saying right now. What exactly can companies do to avoid that pipeline issue that you just talked about? How can they proactively seek those diverse candidates?
Pariss: Right, so this may contain like physically getting up and going out to go and find that diverse talent. It requires more effort and energy. In terms of equity, if you’re coming from a neighborhood that lacks certain resources, then people in those neighborhoods may try to find routes that are less expensive to get an education. So now I’m thinking of boot camps and you don’t have to pay off a four year tuition. It’s either free or you’re paying something way less than you would for a four year degree. Go to boot camp, see the graduates, see who’s in there.
What are they learning? Then you can go to colleges– HBCU’s (historically black colleges and universities). You can go and find black candidates there who are graduating with a computer science degree, a design degree, whatever it is. Like I said, you have to meet people where they’re at. And honestly, it could be like a Google search of black technologists. You can find so many other organizations. They’re out there bringing exposure to the existing community of black technologists. And you can build relationships with them, engage with them, find talent through them. They’ll introduce you to their network, which will be even more people who aren’t just black, but also brown and just from underserved communities. So you have to build out your network. You have to leave your comfort zone and go out there and look.
Masha: Hiring is just such a such a strange process for a lot of companies and how they approach it. When it comes to hiring and increasing the ratios of minority employees, there are a lot of people who get angry by saying that by focusing on increasing diversity, companies will be hiring less talented candidates… just because they need to fill out the proportions that they’ve set for themselves of talents that come from certain backgrounds.
That’s not just when it comes to race. It also comes to a diversity of gender, age, et cetera, et cetera. All types of diversity. That’s obviously a very close minded way of looking at it, but it’s a devil’s advocate kind of argument. So please share your thoughts on the process and some fair hiring strategies that enable companies to access a diverse pool of candidates and ultimately find the best candidates for the role.
Pariss: So I’ve actually like had this conversation before about hire based on merit, not based on, you know, what the person looks like or what community they are coming from. Um, for me, I look at that as are you saying, people from underserved communities don’t have the potential or the education? Like, that’s how I’m looking at it.
I hope that employers are not just hiring, you know, people from underserved or underrepresented communities, um, because they’re from an underrepresented community just for their numbers. That would be awful. Um, what you can do, like if you want to diversify, like I said, affiliate yourself with those underrepresented committees and build those relationships and you will find quality candidates. It’s not like we don’t exist, you know? Um, but yeah, that, that’s such a close minded, ignorant thing to say. You know, because like I said, it almost seems like you were saying that those types of people who are high quality just don’t exist in an underrepresented communities.
Masha: Absolutely. Absolutely. I’m super curious about, um, the best response to those people, right? Because they, that question exists all the time. And like, I understand that there, there are so many super qualified communities, um, super qualified candidates from all types of communities and backgrounds. It’s just a matter of finding the best ones. And like you said, it’s all about just going out to where they are, because that’s how you find the best ones.
Pariss: I think another thing I want to say about like bootcamps and you have to think in terms of equity. So, you know, even if you’re getting tons of candidates who maybe are more junior, but are the diverse candidates who are coming in, if you truly want to diversify, then you need to make room for mentorship and helping them grow within your company.
So it’s like, it’s, it’s like companies also, can’t only focus on diversity. They have to include equity and inclusion within that. And that’s, what’s going to build a healthy culture. Cause if you’re not doing that, then you’re not actually prepared to take in someone who’s going to be the minority of the company.
Masha: Absolutely. And I think that is the perfect leeway for my next question, which is how can we improve sustainable diversity in tech? Not just the hiring process, but also enabling and empowering candidates, um, all of different backgrounds: of different races, of different genders, of different ages, different sexual orientations– all of those candidates that are minorities in companies when they’re working. How can we do that as individuals and also as companies?
Pariss: Yeah. So this actually does begin in the recruitment and interview process, because regardless of who you are interviewing, whether they’re black, white, woman, male, regardless, you want to bring in the right people into the company, because regardless of what community you’re in, you can still be harmful that you, you know. It doesn’t matter if you’re coming from very wealthy community or a less community, you like as an individual, you can still be harmful.
So you should be asking, you know, certain questions in the interview process that allow you to kind of see how people feel and what people do and their outlook on things like diversity, equity and inclusion. It needs to be built into the company values, it needs to be like a practice. It can’t be something that’s like stamped on the wall and it’s just performative. You have to be taking those actionable steps for as long as a company exists. Until this company dies and burns into the ground, you have to practice diversity, equity, and inclusion.
And so when you’re bringing people in, you have to think of– there are things like when you have catered lunch, you know, on, on Thursdays. Are you having catered lunch that, you know, is inclusive of everyone at your company? Or is it things that, you know, maybe the majority just like? Like you want to be inclusive of even the minority, what about their culture? What about the type of food? If there’s one vegan in the company, everyone else, they’re all meat eaters, you want to have a lunch cater to them as well. You know, it’s like small things like that, but then they do get bigger.
There are bigger issues around that that you want to tackle. When it comes to promotions, getting people in leadership, make sure their voices are heard and you’re amplifying those who may be a little more silent. Um, there are just so many things and you want to continue bringing in people from these communities. Don’t just bring in one black person, try to hire more. Why be that singular? No one wants to be a singular black person, no one wants to be the singular woman of a company, you know. Continue seeking out people from all these different communities, like collectively like bringing up a few, not just one.
I mean, there’s so many different things that companies could do, but I do think it starts with like the company values, the interview process, making sure you’re bringing in the right people, regardless of where they’re coming from.
Masha: Yeah. It’s all about mindset. I’m reading a book called Mindset right now. The more, the deeper I get into it, the more I realize it’s all about my mindset and, um, diversity is all about mindset. It’s all about culture, it’s all about empowering people. It’s all about allowing people to grow, right? And reach further and further. So I love what you’re doing with black tech pipeline and the story behind how it all started. Could you please share more about what you’re doing and how people can get involved?
Pariss: Yeah. So with black tech pipeline, I’m launching a new website in a couple of weeks. Um, but what I do mainly is I do recruitment. So I have my own talent pool of black technologists. Anytime an employer uses me for recruitment, and I’ve source my talent, and they ended up getting hired into companies, I virtually stay on the job with those candidates for the first 90 days.
What that looks like is I’ll do biweekly check-ins with those candidates, just to see how they’re doing. What’s their experience been like? Do they feel welcomed? And making sure that they have the tools and resources necessary to do well in their role. Then, with their consent and their safety in mind, whatever feedback they give me, I’ll relay some of that to the manager or to someone in leadership. And we’ll go through and talk about what the company is doing well, where they need to make improvements, but also talk about their current culture.
Let’s talk about your current policy systems and processes, let’s break those down. Let’s check where there is bias, because there’s always bias. They’ve built these policies around the majority of the company, which again, is usually straight white males. Um, so we want to make their culture more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. So that you have room to bring in more diverse talent and you’re ready to take them in. And just have really good retention numbers overall.
Masha: That’s amazing. I love it, how it starts with recruitment, but it also goes deeper into the company culture, you know, the stuff that we were talking about, and that’s amazing. I’m super excited to see where you take the company and how you improve diversity in so many companies all over the world.
Pariss: Thank you.
Thank you so much, Pariss for sharing your thoughts, knowledge and tips. I love what you’re doing with Black Tech Pipeline. Keep on making this industry a better place for everyone. ✨ Black Tech Pipeline and Pariss are on social media if you would like to learn more about her and follow her amazing journey. The Black Tech Pipeline website has gone live as well. I’m super excited to see what impact you are going to have in this world, Pariss!
Let me know in the comments what you have learned from our conversation with Pariss, and if you have any other thoughts on diversity to add. Share this post with your friends and colleagues, because let’s be honest, we all can be better at making this industry more inclusive. And of course we can also be friends on other social media. You can find me as Coding Blonde. Have a wonderful time of the day you’re currently experiencing!