When I entered the Main Auditorium at the Oakland Convention Center for the opening ceremony, I was greeted with the tune, “Cranes In The Sky,” a song from the aptly-titled album by Solange Knowles, A Seat At The Table. This was my first time attending Afrotech, a conference where Black tech professionals network, share resources, and participate in panels and talks. As I shared the story of Blend with candidates at our booth alongside my teammates, my sense of belonging deepened. I didn’t feel the need to give a boilerplate recruiter answer about diversity and inclusion at Blend — I talked about bringing my whole self to work.
For me, Afrotech demonstrates not only what it means to have a seat at the table, but also how we can make room for others by pulling up chairs. Black professionals from all over the world were able to connect and share knowledge without the pressure of assimilation. I quickly noted and appreciated the informality of the event — it was apparent upon entry that everyone present was seeking to create opportunities and remove barriers to access for others.
In a space with over 10,000 Black professionals, founders, and STEM students, I was reminded of a false narrative that’s pervasive in the tech world. The “pipeline problem” is the belief that there are not enough qualified women and under-represented minorities graduating with STEM degrees to fill technical jobs. The experiences of those who are the only Black professional at their offices, which I can relate to based on past positions I’ve held, seem to substantiate this claim. The sheer number of qualified Black tech professionals who attend Afrotech each year debunks this myth.
As a Black, queer woman, I’ve often calculated the way I speak, dress, and wear my hair and how these things might alienate me from my peers and negatively impact my career.
Acknowledging the pipeline problem as a falsehood is an important step. It allows us to shift the paradigm from “Where is the diverse talent?” to a completely different question I once heard Brenda Jin, one of the first female engineers at Slack, pose, “Why does your company deserve diverse talent?”
Blend’s answer was evident at our booth, where our Black at Blend (our Employee Resource Group for Black employees) members joyfully embodied one of the many facets of the company’s diversity. Our positivity was magnetic, and countless talented candidates with impressive resumes stopped by to learn more about our experiences at Blend and the company as a whole. The smiles in the photos we took as a team and with candidates will serve as a sweet reminder of the sense of belonging our booth created.
Even recruiters from other companies came to chat with us, wondering what company was behind our buzzing booth. My Black at Blend beanie definitely drew in a crowd, too. Beyond Blend’s sponsorship of the event, we were proof that Blend has real traction behind our diversity, inclusion, and belonging strategy.
Candidates asked me what my experience has really been like thus far at Blend, which gave me the sense that they felt comfortable enough to ask a meaningful question and expect an authentic answer. It felt great to be able to honestly say “My first day, I wore a blazer. My second day, I wore a leather jacket. I’ve been in the leather jacket ever since.” I joined a company where these candidates have the resources to succeed, and my time here has proven that to be true.
Belonging, for me, comes down to feeling safe to share my culture and experiences while trusting that they will not be devalued, misunderstood, or taken to be representative of everyone who looks like me. As a Black, queer woman, I’ve often calculated the way I speak, dress, and wear my hair and how these things might alienate me from my peers and negatively impact my career. This is why I know that when each Afrotechie asked me about my experience at Blend, they were truly asking me if Blend has a culture of belonging. I think, through my passion for my job and my excitement about attending Afrotech, I conveyed that Blend is a safe place where they can be themselves.
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