Bloomberg News Investigates What It’s Like to Be Black or Female in Silicon Valley

I always find the most interesting articles during my lunch break….

Today was no different.  I just read Fast Company‘s profile on Tristan Walker, one of the few successful African American entrepreneurs in SV, and this Bloomberg article based on interviews with two dozen minority engineers in the Valley as well.  Walker’s profile offered a lot of insight on pursuing goals by targeting minority markets, specifically in regard to his company’s development of Bevel razors for men.  Though, Bloomberg article, “What It’s Like to be Black or Female in Silicon Valley”, was more provocative and left me feeling some type of way about how we discuss diversity in tech and whether we should discuss it at all.

I felt myself agreeing with the advice given by 3 of those interviewed: Kate Matsudana (former SV engineer, present founder of Popforms, Inc), Malunde Adeagbo (formerly of Facebook, present engineer at Pinterest), and Lloyd Carney (CEO, Brocade Communications Systems, Inc).  I pulled some quotes (emphasis mine) from the article and prefaced them with context:

When asked to give counsel to newcomers, Carney makes it plain and simple,

“I tell women and people of color directly ‘don’t you dare advocate for diversity, your career would be over'”.  

Matsudana seems to agree, making sure that her outreach efforts focus more on tech related matters instead of gender or racial issues.  The point: to avoid marginalization in a company due to having one’s personal activism cloud over her/his actual work.  Matsudana emphasized that she does not want to be seen as an activist, but rather a top performer in her field,

“As soon as you put yourself in the camp of the people that talk about ‘the issues’, you’re no longer the person that works hard, you’re the person that spoke out”.

Not to say that bringing up “the issues” wouldn’t be warranted in some situations. Adeagbo points out in the article having to turn down job offers due to some offensive racial-related questions that were asked in his interviews, citing declines based on “severe cultural mismatch”.  Still, he also recognizes that mutual respect comes first with mutual understanding, especially when entering new work environments filled with those who are not used to working with people of color,

What you do have is a lot of uncomfortable, awkward conversations,” Adeagbo explains.

Yes, a co-worker’s ignorance is off-putting, but it can also lead to teachable moments on culture. Carney recognizes this stating,

“If that stuff makes you angry, it will hold you back.  You can’t be angry.  You have to be better than that. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is”.

It is, indeed.  Women of color like myself are far too familiar with the backlash that comes with being perceived as “angry”.

What’s my opinion?  I recognize reality.  Microaggressions have become a norm of American life.  However, we all have a choice in how we will react to them.  I think every woman who makes the choice to enter the tech sector will have to ask herself three questions in general: (1) whether she is seriously mentally prepared and mature enough to work in a male-dominated field, (2) whether working for top tech companies in SV would honestly be a good fit for her, and (3) how she will professionally handle microaggressions if or when she is confronted with them.

I also have to side with Carney, Adeagbo, and Matsudana on discussing the diversity issue.  Our Code is my outlet in supporting the training of more web developers, though when it comes to working with clients and in the office, promoting diversity is not my central focus.  My focus is on creating great programs, amazing websites, and engaging user experiences.  I want to be recognized for my work and perhaps some day as an expert in this field.  As Adeagbo explains, “if my code doesn’t work, it is not because I’m black or white“.

Of course, I would hope that as more resources are created for women, and as the number of us represented as tech entrepreneurs and industry leaders go up, there will not be a need for this blog in the future.  Until then, I’ll continue to do my part in making sure more women like me know that it is possible.

To read the Bloomberg article in full, click the above link.

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