Confessions of a black Silicon Valley employee: ‘We’re living on the fringes of tech’

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

While tech giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter have tried to bring more ethnic, gender and racial diversity to their workforces, they still don’t reflect the way America really looks.

While African Americans account for about 13 percent of the American workforce, they are under-represented at the biggest tech companies by a factor of seven, Mother Jones reported, meaning there are fewer black employees combined at those companies than there are seats on an Airbus A380.

In the latest edition of Digiday’s Confessions series, we asked a black employee in Silicon Valley what it’s like to be a minority in tech.

Let’s start with the biggest issue here. Do you think you can speak for black people across tech or Silicon Valley?
Yes. Here’s what happens. What it is, is that all the black and Latino groups across companies, across the industry, know each other and talk to each other pretty frequently. I’ve even got jobs that way. One time I had a recruiter who was a person of color, and she literally told me, “You have to come work here.”

Why is it important to have more black people or minorities in the tech industry?
The tech industry is incestuous. People work at the same company, and then they come here. So the mindsets all carry over. They come from Microsoft; they go to Yahoo; they come from Google; they tell us what their organizations do when it comes to black people, LGBT organizations. The thing is, we really just want to talk with people who have the same experiences.

How do they go about recruiting?
The recruiting teams reach out to us and say, “Hey, we need more blacks, Latinos, women, gay people for this role.” That makes no sense. We’re the people living on the fringes of a tech existence, and we’re the ones tasked with amending it? Of course, tech companies are pushing diversity initiatives. But they tend to prioritize other things over diversity. One big thing we need to not do is hire people from the same place and the same colleges. Go recruit somewhere else.

How does being a minority affect your job?
There’s meetings where I start asking, “Why am I the only black person in this meeting? That’s buffered when you sit with other black or Latino people. You think people are looking at you. It has made me retreat into myself. It has made me hyperaware. I listen to artists or old-school rap because I feel deprived of black culture. I also spent more time hanging out with security guards and cleaning staff. I don’t go to office-wide happy hours. I don’t go to things where I am not a fit. People go there and talk about Crossfit. I don’t go to Crossfit. Many black people don’t. Of course, management never treated us differently. It wasn’t like I wasn’t getting opportunities because I was black. But it’s there.

The bubble is still there.
Yes. And also, when we talk about diversity in tech, we rarely talk about age. Usually, everyone in a tech company is under 30. Seeing someone with gray hair is like seeing a unicorn. For some people, Silicon Valley is the only job they’ve had. They came out of school; it’s a culture of entitlement. We get office-wide emails about how “My salmon wasn’t cooked right.” It’s crazy. We have free food, guys!

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