Black Tech Fest 2023: Adding some seasoning to the scene
The tech sector has traditionally been male-dominated, a boy’s club famously tricky for women to break into. But when looking around the board rooms, you will notice that something else is also missing: colour. Just 3% of US technology executives in the C-suite are Black, according to an analysis of Fortune 500 executives.
Black Tech Fest, birthed in 2020, aims to disrupt this glaring underrepresentation of ethnic diversity and has grown to become Europe’s largest assembly celebrating the intersection of Black culture and its influence on technology.
The festival — held at Magazine London — expands over three dynamic days of connection, networking, and discovery: a convergence of Black talent and esteemed tech companies.
BTF also illustrates that diversity in tech is not simply financially beneficial. It also plays a huge role in employee satisfaction and retention.
Companies like Tesla, Deloitte, Activision, and Spotify attended BTF this year, showcasing their brightest Black talent, thereby deconstructing conventional narratives about the room at the table in tech.
“There are people of colour in tech; we are here to show that. There is a space for you here.”
Bridging the digital divide
The term “digital divide” illustrates how individuals, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, lack access to technology and the knowledge to use it effectively. One speaker dedicated to smashing this phenomenon was Oduwa Edo-Osagie, lead data scientist at Depop.
“It’s one thing to use the software, but it’s another to understand it,” he said. He stressed the importance of bringing the people along with technological advances. Doing so places the power in the hands of the users, enabling them to assume more prestigious roles within the industry.
He stressed that tech products should be mandated to pass an ethics and bias test before release. “We shouldn’t just put things out and allow them to blow up simply because they work — they need to work for everybody.” This standard reinforces the need for tech that works for everyone, not just for a privileged few.
Power of representation
Representation is crucial. Success stories of dynamic black professionals resonate deeply with Black Tech Fest attendees. From music producers to retail cashiers, former midwives to logistics staff, I heard stories of successful career pivots into tech — people who always had an interest, but never saw themselves represented in the industry.
The presence of such diversity in highly respected tech companies, like Tesla and Spotify, reassures younger generations that they, too, have a place in the future of the tech industry.
BTF’s panellists challenged self-doubts common among underrepresented groups, the infamous “imposter syndrome,” encouraging attendees to step beyond the status quo.
Felicia Asiedu, European marketing director at CVENT, presented a case for actively seeking opportunities rather than passively waiting for them. She spoke about the importance of fostering a culture of unapologetic confidence among Black people in tech.
“You belong at the table if you’re at the table,” she announced. Recounting conversations regarding her colleagues’ private school education, she added, “You need to find that confidence. Your counterparts have it already. It was told to them from a very young age that they are good enough to be the very best.”
Creating space, cementing worth
The inherent biases in tech, painfully evident in such instances as women relaxing their hair to fit conventional professional standards, or facial recognition software that doesn’t acknowledge dark-skinned faces, must be addressed systematically.
BTF creates an environment that acknowledges these struggles and diligently works to change the narrative. The event also underscores the importance of advocating for oneself, recognising one’s worth, and articulating their value to an organisation.
One such example is the adverse discomfort within the Black community around discussing salary.
Questions about salary within the Black community are often met with scepticism or mistrust. However, conversations around salary transparency and knowing when to ask for assistance establish an open dialogue that aids in elevating emerging generations, according to head of channel, partnerships & marketing at Intuit, Zuleika Philips.
Diversity, inclusivity, and cultural competence
Testimonials from attendees truly encapsulate the value of Black Tech Fest. I spoke with a graphic artist attending the event for the first time, with Activision-Blizzard. “I met a senior software engineer who has been in the industry for 15 years. The same age as my father and the same colour as my father. That’s a powerful thing for both my inner child and my present-day confidence,” she reflected.
She highlighted representation’s powerful impact on individuals, “This is my first Black Tech Fest. I’ve been smiling the whole day. I’m around people who share my interests. They may have similar or different stories, but I can learn from them.”
“This is my first Black Tech Fest. I’ve been smiling the whole day.”
BTF is adeptly creating a community space for networking that was previously non-existent, and the impact, as summed up by one attendee, is genuinely “priceless.”
Beyond just representation, panellists at BTF widely emphasised the importance of a diverse workforce. Having diverse backgrounds feeds the collective intelligence that translates into better, globally appealing products.
A panel of Gitlab employees explained how their global recruitment strategy equipped them with the ability to reach and understand global markets authentically. The notion of inclusivity at the point of design leading to inclusivity at the point of use resonates profoundly.
BTF is an incubation hub highlighting inclusivity, diversity, and cultural intelligence. It assures a solitary Black professional that they don’t have to single-handedly bear the weight of educating their colleagues about racial dynamics — a burden many of us have spent far too much mental capacity on.
It emboldens a bright-eyed, intelligent, and ambitious emerging generation of tech enthusiasts. Letting them know that there is in fact a seat for them at the table. A seat hand crafted by all of the trailblazers that came before — many of whom stood proudly in attendance at Black Tech Fest.
The prevailing sentiment left by the festival is clear: the tide in tech is turning towards a much more inclusive and colourful future.
Join us in the continuing conversation on inclusivity in tech. Read more about TechInformed’s coverage of Tech for Good
*This article was amended to correct an error that suggested Felicia Asiedu was speaking about her own private education. Rather, she was talking about experiences that her colleagues had shared with her, and was not privately educated herself.
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