AfroTech has long been a hub for Black presentation in IT, entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence, machine learning and engineering across the board. AfroTech — the publication and the conference — are offshoots of Black digital media company Blavity, which Morgan DeBaun founded in 2014. The AfroTech Conference came about in 2016 and continues to serve as a tech incubator and a place where Black talent in tech can gain visibility — and employment.
“A lot of the early conversation was that there weren't enough talented people — specifically people of color and Black talent — within the tech space,” Simone White, senior vice president of AfroTech and Talent Infusion, told HR Dive. “In the years following, what we learned was, by aggregating thousands of resumes from executive-level talent, student-level talent and entry-level talent, there was a huge need for us to fill the void for enterprise client.”
Black talent in tech can make vital connections and secure jobs due to the networking element of the conferences. With the addition of Talent Infusion, AfroTech’s diverse hiring platform, the organization seeks to upload that energy.
“In 2020, 2021, 2022, we started to plan for this,” White said. The question they sought to answer: “How can we operationalize our existing resume book into a format that allows people to easily aggregate information, to download resumes, but also to find talent?”
Below is HR Dive’s conversation with White about the energy and rationale behind creating this resource.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
HR DIVE: For context, how does the platform work? I’m interested in hearing about how it works from an employer standpoint.
SIMONE WHITE: The users who have access to the platform are usually enterprise clients or HR folks within the tech space. You log in and have the option of actually searching specifically by the type of role, the number of experiences, location, and even different types of backgrounds.
From there, it builds a pool for you. So you can actually build your own pools, you can save talent, and then you can also download their resumes — to directly reach out and or to upload into your own systems.
People who attend AfroTech conferences are often looking for jobs. Can you tell me about that in-person experience and seeing people get matched with employers on-site successfully? To see them tangibly make those next steps in their career?
It's an energy that is really hard to explain. It brings together tens of thousands of Black people in technology; it’s not seen anywhere else in the world. It is an opportunity for us to leverage the amazing skills and talent that this community has, to put them on stage and have them to showcase what they do every day. Also, [it is an opportunity to] make sure that they are funneled into talent pipelines with some of the most amazing companies. It is high-energy — lots of music, lots of fun, lots of networking and community-building.
More importantly, the biggest thing that we do is drive impact. We make sure that our voices are continuously heard and that we have seats at the table, as new technologies and innovations are being developed. We also have opportunities for learning and continued career growth.
Bank of America specifically is one of the corporate partners. How did that partnership come to be?
We began partnering with Bank of America, I believe, in our third year of AfroTech. A lot of what they were looking for was to double down into building their cybersecurity teams. They had a huge emphasis on teams in the leadership being diverse.
They’d have a presence at AfroTech, but we also thought about how we can really leverage the cybersecurity community in D.C. So we had dinners and networking events targeting executive-level talent. And over the years, we’ve thought about new and innovative ways to funnel talent into their different pipelines.
Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about regarding Black people in tech and that sort of Afrofuturist ideal?
It’s important that we have a continued impact on how technologies are being developed. Because it not only impacts us from a career development perspective but also from an end-user perspective.
We are excited to make sure that we do not lose any footing, specifically as layoffs are happening and, as you know, the tech industry goes through some interesting changes over these next few months.
Obviously, it would be a matter of looking at specific demographic data to get really solid on numbers, but do you feel like Black and brown people are particularly vulnerable in these tech layoffs?
What we see happening is some of the early diversity and inclusion commitments within some of these tech communities — specifically those that happened in 2020 — are the first targeted. We are keeping a close eye on it and we are also hoping the Talent Infusion becomes a resource for those people who are still wanting work in this space.
As a Black person, especially in the digital media space, I understand the value of having Black people in the room, top-down from the boardroom. What advice would you give HR people who are trying to make the case for diversity to their employers?
Look at the data, right? Organizations have been forced to prove how diversity impacts the bottom line. It drives innovation. It helps drive business growth. And most importantly, it helps with retention for existing employees, to know the products they’re building are a reflection of their audience and their end users.