The tech industry, and by extent the Product Management industry, faces well-documented challenges when it comes to diversity. The most publicized are the racial disparities among Big Tech employees, with black employees representing only 2.1% of Meta’s tech workforce, and only 4.7% at Microsoft.
While there are plenty of diversity reports, think pieces, employee groups, and promises of change, that change has been slow to come.
Most of the focus on improving opportunities for black professionals who want to thrive in the tech industry is placed on hiring practices. While opening the door to the tech world is critical to improving diversity, many are saying that this is simply not enough. The industry needs to focus more on providing a safe, healthy, and inclusive experience for black employees working in tech. For that reason, health and wellbeing are the theme of this year’s Black History Month.
Speaking on his 20 year career in tech as a black man, LeRon L. Barton notes how a lack of diversity affects the mental welfare of people in the industry.
“When you’re the only Black person in an office, you notice it. Glancing around, you notice that no one looks like you, talks like you, or has a story like you. Nobody has the gall to approach you and say, “Hey, out of the 40 people on this floor, you’re the only Black guy.” But you sense that everyone else notices it too. You sense it from the stares you receive when you walk through the door, from the looks on people’s faces when they find out you’re competent at your job, from the alienation you feel after not being invited to lunch with your peers, and from the awkwardness they project when they try to engage you in everyday conversation. Being Black in tech, like being Black in America, is an exercise of mental toughness. Your mind is constantly wondering, “How long can I last?””
-Harvard Business Review, ‘What It’s Like To Be a Black Man in Tech’
Mental health issues disproportionately affect black people in the US, while remaining a taboo subject in the community. And in a survey of young people (aged 18–24) in the tech industry, an average of 68% of respondents said that they had experienced feelings of discomfort in their roles, due to their gender/ethnicity/socio-economic background or neurodevelopmental condition. This number rose to 75% in female respondents, 69% in latinx respondents, and peaked at 81% of black respondents.
The problems are clear, and the tech industry needs to listen more carefully when black people and other minorities speak on their experiences. It’s not enough just to hire people, they need to listen and ensure their work culture, practices and policies are inclusive.
Celebrating Black Product Leaders 2022
We’re celebrating this year’s Black History Month by highlighting the work and impact of 31 Black Product Leaders. As well as applauding their contributions to Product, we’re upholding them as role models for the next generation of black tech talent.
Many of these individuals have also generously given their time as instructors and guest speakers, sharing their knowledge and experiences with our Product Management community.
Whether you’re trying to break into Product, or looking for more support in your career, check out these resources:
- Black Women Talk Tech — A community for black women in tech, with regular conferences, panels, and business growth support for tech entrepreneurs.
- Black Tech Pipeline — An organization dedicated to connecting black tech talent with recruiters who are keen to both hire and retain them.
- Blacks In Technology — A community with chapters across the world, dedicated to ‘stomping the divide’ by providing resources, networking opportunities, and opportunities for members.
- Between Two Divs — A podcast by Cam Perry, who discusses topics with POC in tech
If you’re trying to educate yourself further on this topic, here are our recommendations:
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This article was also published on The Product Management Blog, where we share tips, tricks, and industry deep-dives for PMs of all levels.