If you listened to my radio show Views From the Top this past Friday (June 4, 2010), you would have heard a very interesting conversation. I had Shireen Mitchell and Chris Curtis on my show discussing Black Women (or the lack of) in Technology. These are two women who are great examples of Black Women who started off in technology early (think Radio Shack Tandy computers that hooked up to the television….wait, I’m dating myself because I was one of those geek girls early on) and spent all of their adult lives in the heart of technology. My path was different in that I went into Recruiting in the technology space, but I still continue to keep a healthy interest in technology.

The heart of the conversation was about the many excuses that companies and hiring managers use to justify or excuse the fact that Black Women are poorly represented in the space. Now I’m an advocate for all women in tech, but for the purposes of this blog post, I’m focusing on Black Women. In my 17+ years of recruiting, most of those years in the tech industry, resumes of Black Women rarely came across my desk for technology positions unless they were in web DESIGN or Business Analyst. I’d get the occasional Technical Writer or “Sales Engineer” but anything deeper than that it was a ghost town. Being the type of Recruiter I am, I never waited for them to apply. I would always have to go out and hunt for them. And trust me, it wasn’t very easy in the beginning. I can’t tell you how frustrated I was to get these meaty technical positions and get the same profile of candidate: male, 20′s or 30′s, White or Indian. Sure, I would get the occasional Woman candidate, but more times than not, she was White. The more I noticed that a pattern was developing, the more I counseled my clients to step out of the norm and do something, anything to attract more women of color. I would always be met with subtle resistance. “Well Adrienne, you’re the Recruiter. We’ll leave that to you”. It burned me up to no end to hear that. I KNOW I’m the Recruiter. I can identify your sore spots and bring you the talent you need. But I need some help to do it! One woman shouldn’t be charged with taking on the diversity initiative for a major corporation. Recruiting need buy in, resources and support to build and cultivate relationships with communities and organizations to be able to attract these talented ladies. Yes, I know where to look and build organically. Can you say the same about YOUR recruiting team?

I would try to connect with the Diversity departments and some times they were absolutely clueless. They were more concerned with avoiding discrimination lawsuits, meeting certain “quotas” and providing sound bites to the public. Sure, they would have their marketing departments create the touchy feely warm and cuddly “look we employ everyone and our people look just like YOU” ads. But I knew the truth. My job is to get the most qualified PERSON for the job who can deliver and fits in with the company culture. But it’s also my job (with the backing of the executive suite) to make sure the company gets in front of a cross section of people. But when you have companies that care more about avoiding lawsuits than truly creating a diverse environment, you’re fighting an uphill battle.

But back to the subject at hand. I would really like to see the numbers of Black Women or any women of color for that matter in the hands on development and leadership technical positions at companies like Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, Intel, Google, Yahoo, etc. Yes, I’m calling names. I NEVER EVER see any visual representation of any Black Women in prominent technology roles. I see them as end users or customers. But never as developers or contributors. Now, I’m sure someone from these companies will come back and challenge me. Bring it on. This is not an attack. I’m just curious about your numbers. I have recruiter buddies and some tech folks (I won’t name names) who share their stories with me in confidence. If you’re worried about who would be telling secrets, maybe that’s a sign that you should be focusing on getting more women of color in the mix, not alienating or ignoring us.

Let’s turn the focus if you will to the media and conference organizers. Are you not looking hard enough for women of color to showcase? Fast Company, Inc, Wired I’m talking to YOU. Hold on now, Black Enterprise, I’m not leaving you out of this. I rarely see a Black Woman tech business owners or executive adequately covered. You have a Black Woman as a Tech Editor! Come on, we need better representation. And hey all you conference organizers, you mean to tell me you can’t find ONE Black Woman to have on panel? Oh wait, from what I understand, one of my associates said that you were more concerned with the “quality of the content and sessions”. Hhhhmmmm. I don’t know about you all, but to me that reads “a Black Woman would not be able to bring anything to the table to intelligently connect with the audience. OK got ya! To the women focused organizations out there, please, I beg you, do a better job of outreach. Start tapping into the women who are fortunate enough to be in the spotlight. Connect with recruiters because they (well some of them) should know how to tap into that market. Have a Black Woman on your board, facilitate sessions, or work with you to drive membership. There are a whole segment of Black Women out there who are frustrated because they feel left out or alienated. Reach out to them and I guarantee your membership will diversify….if you truly want it to.

Now as I said on my show, Black Women please don’t think I’m going on the war path and only pointing fingers are the companies. Because we have a role in this too. There have been many times where I had solid Black Women candidate who opted NOT to go after certain roles because they didn’t want to be part of the politics and bullshit (their words, not mine). They knew that it would be an uphill battle to get hired, then accepted into the fold by their tech comrades. I’ve heard the horror stories, I’ve seen the treachery. But what does not kill us makes us stronger. Now this is for all women. We cannot hide away in the shadows if we want to be recognized for our achievements. I want to see apps developed by Black Women (or Latinas or Asian Women, etc). I want to see platforms and systems created by women of color….hell, by women period! Don’t keep your ideas and projects under wraps. Be proud of what you bring to the table and take every opportunity to show people what you can do. Reach out to other women and start building relationships. Be vocal in meetings. Don’t just sit back and let the “boys” speak at the table. Be heard and respected. I you start feeling left out, minimized or disrespected, nip it in the bud from day one. Continue to upgrade your skills and keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the industry. Get better at what you do. And stop denying yourself opportunities because of the likelihood of bullshit and politics.

Ladies make sure you connect with your HR representative and managers and map out your career path. Don’t let anyone talk you out of your path. If you’re gunning for the CTO title, do whatever you need to do to improve your skills, volunteer for projects, network, keep up certifications and training, showcase your expertise and everything else you can do to climb your way to that CTO spot. Let your skills speak for themselves. Open the lines of communication with Recruiters in the tech industry. If you’re in a company where you are under appreciated or devalued, take your skills elsewhere. Recruiters can help you find the best environment for you. And if you don’t find the right fit, take your knowledge and talent and start your own tech firm. When you do, I’ll be that one to find you the talent you need….a diverse cross section of talent, male and female, White, Black, Latino, Asian, etc. The most successful companies with the happiest employees are the most diverse companies.

You can only use how the corporations treat you as an excuse but so long. Own your part in it then work past the corporate politics to excel at your craft. Companies, pay attention. Technology is not just a guy thing. There are plenty of women, especially women of color, who have a lot to offer. Don’t let ignorance keep you from hiring the best.

Til next time,

Adrienne Graham