The tech industry has come to be known as a place that is predominantly white and male. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a pipeline problem, it is a retention problem.
Black Tech Pipeline aims to debunk this myth and assist black technologists on their respective journeys. The Black Tech Pipeline, founded by Pariss Athena, offers three major offers: a job board where anyone can pay to be featured, a recruitment and advisory service, and connections to potential speakers for events.
"The goal of the Black Tech Pipeline is to introduce the existing black technologist community," said Athena. “We're focusing on those who are here because we want to shed some light on the whole 'pipeline problem' that is not real. We were in the industry. We exist in it. We have been here for years. We're seniors, we're middle-class, we're a number. But we also want to create this ripple effect for those outside of the industry to show them that you have a community of people who look like you and are here to support you on your journey. "
There are currently nearly 700 black technologists in the database. By July, 8.66% of candidates had zero years of experience, 37.33% had one to two years of experience, 27.33% had two to three years of experience, 22% had five to 10 years of experience, and 10.5% had 10 -more than years of experience.
Companies listed on the job board pay customers on the Black Tech Pipeline. That means they get a customized landing page where they can describe the roles available, as well as detailing their values, the company's attitude towards diversity and inclusion, and much more. These companies are also featured on Black Tech Pipeline's newsletter and social media platforms, which total more than 40,000 people participate.
"We want to provide a very transparent overview of what it means to work there as someone who is most likely to be the minority in the workplace," said Athena.
Athena came up with the idea of creating a database of black technologists after being fired from her first job as a software engineer and becoming more active on Twitter.
“When I got in, I noticed that there was a really small community of black technologists, which was interesting because at least here in Boston – and I'm sure this is everywhere – I wasn't just always the only software engineer in the Development team but literally the only black person in the entire company since I entered this industry, ”said Athena.
“Since I've rarely seen people look like me, I just thought we weren't really in this industry. When I saw that we were a couple of us, I said, 'Oh, cool, I wonder how many more of us are out there? “And I posted a tweet asking what Black Twitter looks like in tech. And that tweet unexpectedly went semi-viral and a lot of black technologists from all over the world posted themselves in the tweet, and it created that super long thread of their pictures and labeled what they do in the industry. And overnight, it really shaped this movement and community of Black Tech Twitter. "
That same week employers started reaching out to Athena asking her to help them recruit blacks, she said. Although Athena had no experience of recruiting, she agreed to help. She developed a talent database to connect candidates with employers, as well as an accompanying application that is automatically filtered into the database.
In the earlier days, Athena said she noticed many of the candidates were hired but many of them were not held back.
"So there was just this retention problem," she said. "And as someone who was always the only black person in mostly white rooms, I knew what was going on."
This led Athena to create a consultancy package and bill companies. Every time a candidate was hired because of her efforts, she would check-in every two weeks for the first 90 days to see how they were doing.
"That way, I made sure I didn't send them somewhere harmful," said Athena. "And with a view to their approval and security, I would pass on the feedback they gave me to the employer."
The aim is to help employers improve their work culture and the systems and processes that are burned into them. Initially, Athena did this for free and simply worked from her Twitter direct messages. Athena has since started charging companies for these services as part of her Black Tech Pipeline.
Despite all the efforts Athena has put into the Black Tech pipeline, this isn't her full-time job just yet, but she wants it to be. Ideally, she would focus more on the counseling piece.
"I love the fact that I can be this almost outside HR department, but for the candidate, not the company," she said. "So I'm not here to protest the company and make sure it looks good no matter how much damage they do. I'm here to make sure that person has a good experience. If not, I'll take you to." Hold an account and we'll work on it. That's really what I want to do – make changes and keep people at their word. I don't want to work with someone who is going to be performative. "
Of the 12 companies she has worked with so far, nine have been hired. Technically there was more, but Athena said she doesn't count those who have hired people but who didn't stay long. Part of this retention problem reflects some of the problems she's had with larger companies.
One of those issues is that there's a divide between the people in the company who really want to make change and the managers who feel less inclined to do so, Athena said. Another is that some people who have been hired have experienced microaggressions that made them leave.
"When these things happen, I report them to the manager, but he doesn't know how to deal with them," said Athena. "They will say that it is not substantial enough or that it was accidental. If I cannot reach such employers, I will sign my contract with them by checking in and reporting feedback, but I will not dive into their current processes to look at and see where they can improve. I don't do that for employers like that anymore. So I just end the contract and move on. "