Each year, the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit brings together tech leaders, executives, innovators, renowned speakers, and entrepreneurs with the goal of empowering people of color in the tech industry. The two-day conference is packed with insightful talks, interactive workshops, and one-on-one chats with some of the brightest minds in tech. In the lead up to the conference, TechConneXt also provides HBCU students with an opportunity to showcase their talents and genius in the #BEhackathon competition for a grand prize of $40,000.
This year, during “An Interactive Discussion: Real Solutions to Tech’s Diversity Issue” session, a roundtable of millennial tech influencers addressed what top companies in Silicon Valley are doing to foster diversity and whether or not their efforts have led to actual change. Before the panel of young techies took the stage, Anthony Frasier, an author and entrepreneur-in-residence at Newark Venture Partners, began the session with a fireside chat with Tony Prophet, the chief equality officer at Salesforce. Prior to joining Salesforce, Prophet worked as an executive at both Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard. Today, he is considered to be one of the most powerful black tech executives in Silicon Valley.
During their chat, Prophet emphasized the importance of creating a diverse company culture. He also stated that organizations have an obligation to foster social change, starting from within.
“Naturally, all industries and any great institution [are] striving for diversity, but you also want to build cultures that are inclusive where everyone feels seen, valued, and heard,” he said. He added that companies must build safe work environments that encourage their employees “to bring their whole authentic self to work.”
In addition to cultivating diversity through their recruitment efforts, Prophet pointed out that businesses can also use data to make sure their company policies are practicing pay equality among their employees.
In the second half of the session, Frasier moderated a discussion with Roy Broderick Jr., founder/CEO of The Intuition Consulting Firm; Mariah Lichtenstern, founding partner at DiverseCity Ventures; Tiffany Price, the community engagement manager at Kapor Center for Social Impact; and Leroy Jackson, the managing director at Accenture Technology. Each panelist shared their thoughts and expertise on how Silicon Valley can promote diversity and inclusion.
A company’s culture must be conducive to the people they are trying to attract, said Lichtenstern. On the other hand, if your business has a hostile work environment, then the focus needs to be on exposing and educating your employees on a diverse culture, she said. She also encouraged the audience to start their own businesses in order to challenge the paradigms that currently exist. Likewise, Jackson stressed the need for companies to focus on creating an inclusive environment and understanding who their employees are outside of work. “As a managing director, everyone sees me through that equal managing director lens, but it’s important for me to come to work and also express who am I. So when things are taking place in the media, I need to be vocal and bold in letting folks know that police brutality or [racial] profiling are things that actually affect me on a day-to-day basis.”
Broderick pointed out that company’s need to invest in the right recruiter officers who can build a sustainable and inclusive culture. “As we all know, diversity dollars are thin and they’re usually the first to go when it’s time to [make] cuts, so it’s very important to be strategic” in allocating those resources.
Price, however, argued that the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley stretches well beyond recruitment. “It’s all about leadership, and if the leadership doesn’t care, then it’s going to be a lot of struggle, with not a lot of shift.”