Recruiters work to improve representation in tech

Technologists of color create connections and jobs for other people of color in the tech industry. From placing workers to investing in a community, work experiences serve as their common thread.

A viral tweet about #BlackTechTwitter gained attention from thousands of Black technologists, leading Pariss Chandler to eventually start her own tech-industry recruitment firm. Photo courtesy of Nick DeJesus.

Pariss Chandler, the founder and one-woman recruiter behind Black Tech Pipeline, lets out a big sigh of relief every time she hangs up a call helping tech companies acquire a more equitable workforce.

Why are you seeking diverse candidates?

What does your company look like right now?

Was George Floyd a wake-up call?

Chandler never intended to start this business when she first entered the tech industry three years ago. She doesn’t even really enjoy phone calls. But after a viral tweet about #BlackTechTwitter gained attention from thousands of Black technologists in December 2018, companies started asking her to share those virtual connections.

Demand was so high for her recruitment side hustle that it became a full-time gig in June 2020, joining dozens of community leaders, businesses, and nonprofits nationwide who have dreamt up solutions to tackle the lack of representation for Black, Latino and Indigenous people of color throughout the tech world.

Pariss Chandler is the founder of Black Tech Pipeline, which she runs alone from her Boston home office. (Photo courtesy of Nick DeJesus)

Often talking until her throat is sore, the 29-year-old is fueled by anger that people still don’t understand the challenges and emotional toll that come along with being a token minority tech worker, which Chandler has experienced firsthand.

“I took [tech jobs] at the cost of knowing that I had to get up and go to this space that made me feel uncomfortable and excluded, and it was hard for me to build relationships,” she said. “I didn’t really know who to speak to or how to even explain microaggressions. I was dealing with bullshit for my paycheck.”

When not on the phone or Zoom in her home office outside of Boston — which she shares with her fiancé — the consultant and recruiter sources her talent database, emails potential candidates and posts opportunities on her social media channels, cumulatively reaching thousands of Black technologists online.

“The ‘pipeline problem’ is bullshit … it’s a network problem,” she said. “People need to leave their little bubble of comfort and meet new people who are from different communities, from different backgrounds, think differently, look differently. Until people start doing that, you are going to have a pipeline problem, but that’s your own fault.”

The Black Tech Pipeline continues its services after placement. Chandler gathers bi-weekly feedback from new hires during their first 90 days of employment, acting as an honest middleman holding hiring companies accountable.

Chandler said that’s the only way substantive policy changes will happen, allowing more minority tech workers to not only obtain careers, but to thrive within their chosen field and secure leadership positions.

The U.S. tech workforce is predominantly white and male. According to the Kapor Center for Social Impact, “The technology workforce in the United States is 90% White or Asian and 75% male.”

Looking more closely, across 4.6 million computer and mathematical (C&M) workers, data from the Brookings Institution say Blacks make up 11.9% of all workers but only 7.9% of C&M workers. Meanwhile, Latinos, who make up 16.7% of all workers, account for only 6.8% of C&M workers.

And although Native Americans and Alaska Natives make up 1.2% of the total population, they represent only 0.3% of the engineering workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

An explanation for this representation is sometimes framed as a “leaky pipeline:” inequitable access to computer science classes for K-12 students, narrow hiring requirements that prioritize expensive college degrees over skills bootcamps, and minimal funding opportunities for diverse start-up efforts.

To increase the likelihood for meaningful minority employment, Chandler vets companies who have committed, in part, to not only remove social and financial hoops for tech hopefuls to jump through but also receive honest feedback about how they’re doing.

“Before I had this model, it was terrible. Some hires came back a month later to say, ‘Thanks for putting me into this company, but I left,’” Chandler said. “[Tech companies] would give them tasks that made it clear they were a diversity hire and not in a place where they could grow and thrive. When I found that out, I felt awful because I felt like I just threw people anywhere without caring for their well being.

“No progress was made and it ended up being a waste of time. Things weren’t actually changing.”

Tia Hopkins, vice president of Global Sales Engineering at eSentire, started Empow(H)er Cybersecurity and its internal network, The (H)aven, to provide a sense of community she wished she had during her own quest within the tech industry. (Photo by Nattisha Anderson-Hopkins)

Until representation increases across individual organizations, Tia Hopkins is one of dozens of founders who have created virtual environments to fill gaps of guidance and support in tech — beyond Google searches and Twitter.

She founded Empow(H)er Cybersecurity and its internal network, The (H)aven, in October to provide the sense of community she wished she had throughout her own quest within the industry. But she’s not trying to fix a “leaky pipeline.” The pipeline is simply broken.

Hopkins sees the many scholarships, free tickets and webinars companies use to try recruiting diverse workers as a game of Whack-A-Mole: lip service with half-baked solutions that fail to acknowledge systemic reasons potential workers of color are discouraged from even entering the pipeline.

“If you go do your research … [those statistics] don’t say to me ‘I can be successful,’” Hopkins said. “Now, you see articles about candidates that are self-selecting out when they look at a job description, but let’s go all the way back to the people that are self-selecting themselves out of pursuing this (industry) as a possibility. That’s a real problem, too.”

As a Black woman — who is self-described masculine-of-center, tattooed and lives in New York with her wife and two kids — Hopkins is a success story for non-traditional pathways into tech, after previously dropping out of college four times trying to secure a computer science degree without a network of people or contacts behind her.

When she got tired of answering “I don’t know” to DSL customers’ questions while working for a phone company in 2010, she bought a bunch of cheap PCs, a “Networking for Dummies” book and built her own little computer lab to learn.

A decade later, the 40-year-old is a vice president of cybersecurity technical sales, studying for her Ph.D. program and crafting curriculum as a university professor — a product of her “inverse imposter syndrome” to validate her existence at the top.

As a Black woman in a position of tech leadership, she’s an outlier; few others look like her at conferences, offices or lunch rooms.

According to The People of Color in Tech Report from technology business reviewer TrustRadius, 67% of tech professionals report their leadership teams are a quarter or less people of color, while 12% were not sure.

While she knows this will take years of effort to change, Hopkins continues “sending the elevator back down” to support other women of color and minority technologists as they get their foot in the door.

“The subset that does make it will be incredibly passionate about making sure they’re not the last one,” Hopkins said. “Our stories will resonate with someone else, and that’s the cycle that needs to be created. Part of the problem right now is there’s just not enough of these stories to tell.”

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