Talented, Black, and Invisible – How Silicon Valley is Failing Black Technologists
Silicon Valley is still failing minorities and women in technology, especially with regard to investing and hiring. Although the tech world fashions itself as a pure meritocracy, Black tech entrepreneurs are finding that the reality is not that simple. From the resume name study[i], to Pew Research center’s race study, [ii] to Stanford’s online sales study[iii], it is clear that subconscious bias is likely a factor that creates issues for Black technologists in the very non-diverse tech world. This bias may limit Silicon Valley’s ability to reach its full potential if perfectly valid, high potential startups & employees are being left out of the game.
Matt Joseph, founder of tech startup Locent,[iv] a text marketing service, is a prime example. As Matt pursued investment in Silicon Valley he noticed, “Investors in Silicon Valley implying and outright saying I’m somehow unqualified to run a tech company”. [v] That’s a tough sell considering Matt is a graduate of Princeton University, has a law degree & a master’s in business administration from UCLA, and is in the prestigious accelerator Y Combinator, which is the same accelerator as Reddit, Dropbox, and Air BnB. In 30 powerful tweets and a Facebook post, Matt outlines how seemingly, no matter the talent level, there is a theme of “pattern matching” by investors who are looking for founders who look like “Zuck or Butterfield”, which as an African American man, Matt does not fit the pattern. “To get anywhere as a minority in tech you have to be more resilient than those around you. That’s a fact. We’re held to a diff[erent] standard.” Even successful titans in the tech space face the same obstacles. Troy Carter, a man who’s tech success speak for itself, including his investments in Uber, Spotify, Warby Parker, Lyft, and his involvement with ABC’s Shark Tank, faces concern from investors that he may only invest in Black founders. “Who said African American founders can’t build a billion dollar company?” Carter says. Even though Carter is not going to invest solely in Black founders, the perception that he might creates uneasiness, which is totally unwarranted. “It was them having prejudice against black founders” says Carter.
During the 2016 South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, TX, Joey Womack, of Amplify 4 Good, held Founder’s Therapy at the new Urban Co-Lab co-working space in historically Black east Austin. Founder’s Therapy is a session where entrepreneurs share stories of sacrifice, triumph and struggle, creating a sense of understanding and community amongst founders. Some of the best young Black technologists in the world were in attendance including: Jewel Burke of Part Pic, Jessica Matthews of Uncharted Play, Brandon Andrews, consultant to Shark Tank, Michael Hall of Digital Grass, Natalie Coefield of Walkers Legacy, Erin Horne McKinney of Black Female Founders, and many more. During the event, founders opened up about the difficulties of starting a new venture, shared tips and resources, and utilized each other as a support mechanism to combat the issues we face as entrepreneurs. Between financing, mentorship, media coverage, and recognition, many minority entrepreneurs echoed the same issues that have recently come to light within Silicon Valley’s most respected companies. It boiled down to how a lack of diversity within the leadership at tech companies, investment funds, and tech media is making it harder for minorities and women to fully reach their potential based solely on their abilities.
There are good things going on to combat these issues. Organizations like Pipeline Angel Investors[vi], Intel’s[vii] commitment to invest in diversity, Code2040[viii], and others exist to combat issues within technology and diversity. Innovators such as Jason Towns founding of Groundwork[ix], an organization raising funds to invest in seed stage minority and women owned businesses in the DC area, are glimmers of light. Even Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey spoke[x] at the National Society of Black Engineers conference addressing many of the same challenges Black technologists are facing in Silicon Valley. “We are not going to be relevant unless we are inclusive, unless we are representative of who we serve,” says Dorsey during his interview.
As a Black tech entrepreneur, my hope is for Silicon Valley to live up to its promise to engage any entrepreneur that can build something that provides value & solves a real problem. Every entrepreneur only wants to receive the consideration equal to the potential of their business, regardless of race, gender, age, orientation, or anything else. No charity, handouts, or social endeavors, just fair consideration for investments with the expectation to make a return.
Let pure ingenuity rule over all. We can do the rest.
[This originally was written in June 2016, and was edited for Erin McKinney’s foundation & other light edits]
[The photo is one taken with my personal camera by a volunteer during SXSW 2015]