To be a Black person in tech is often to be the only person in the room who looks like you, was raised like you, and has a similar lived experience. Black people make up 3.5% of Canada’s population, and according to a 2016 study by the Brookfield institute make up 2.6% of Canada’s tech workforce. Not bad, right? Not so fast. That same study also points to a massive wage gap between Black workers and other workers of visible minorities in Canada, with Black tech professionals earning on average $13k/year less than other people of colour. And if you’re a Black woman, good luck trying to make it to the boardroom - 89% of Canadian companies had zero Black or Indigenous women in their management pipeline.
That’s why events like the BFUTR Global Tech Summit, held in Toronto from Oct 19 - 21, and hosted by the Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN) are so important. TELUS Digital sponsored the summit, as well as any Black-identifying team member or ally who wanted to attend.
When we were asked to write this blog post about our experiences, we thought it would be a fairly easy task to summarize everything we had heard, take a few memorable, quotable moments and craft them into something neat and tidy. But the more we sat with messages we had heard over the three days at BFUTR, the more we realized what an incredible thing we had just participated in, and how difficult it was going to be to quantify this uplifting, heartening, healing, encouraging, enlightening experience into a few words.
In addition to topics widely applicable in the tech sector such as how to foster an agile mindset in your organization, the importance of cloud computing in today’s tech landscape and equitable artificial intelligence ecosystems, the conference also, critically, focused on issues that resonate for folks within the Black community, like the progress of Black women in tech careers, why Black voices matter in the boardroom, and how to foster the next generation of Black talent and encourage their participation in technical careers.
It was noted at the conference that talent and intelligence is equally distributed, but often opportunity is not. If that is the case, and if diversity is such an important part of what makes companies tick, why don’t we see more of that in our boardrooms, and represented at all levels of organizations across the country? We discussed the importance of finding mentors and more critically sponsors in your career, people who will speak your name while you’re not in the room and advocate to get you a seat at the table. We grew our networks and met Black tech professionals from all over North America.
But how do we change the status quo, and how do we move the needle? Trevor Noah (yeah, that Trevor Noah!) said it best: “Understand where the needle is. Its movement will be relevant in how you perceive it. Give grace to yourself to know you’re often starting the race from 100 m back… spaces like Black networking events (such as BFUTR) are important, and that’s how we start moving things forward.” BFUTR is an example of the incredible wealth of Black tech talent from across North America - proof that organizations who want Black talent in their organizations merely have to open their doors and look. Take a chance, and choose to hire for potential over proven talent. To quote Trevor Noah again, “the number of CEOs who, when they took the job, felt under qualified or didn’t know what they were doing but got the opportunity is staggering. In doing your job well and looking out for opportunities, we can do the same. Black people are often told we have to come to the table with everything together - but no, look for opportunities.”
So, if you’re a Black professional in tech, consider TELUS Digital as your opportunity. We are actively encouraging management to hire based on potential in addition to the proven skills you may have. If you are a recent grad, are thinking of re-skilling or you have little experience but you are interested in a tech career, check out our recommendations on how to get started in development, or keep an eye on our TELUS Digital Careers site for postings about our Junior Designer Program, Junior Content Program, and Junior Analytics Development Experience. As one of our colleagues, Senior Project Manager Michele St. Hilaire Bean noted, “TELUS Digital has the courage to take a step forward in recognizing there is a need to support Black team members.” And we’re doing it. Steve Tannock, Director of Platform, Technology & Tools, says he sees a shift in the way we’re hiring at TELUS Digital. “We’ve made a bet that hiring for potential is the right way to grow, and we’re actively looking for a more diverse team, and particularly women, who have not traditionally been in this space. We’re interviewing for potential, curiosity, willingness to learn, and we’re committed to shifting who we’re hiring and how.” So if you’re a job seeker, know that we’re looking for you, rooting for you and we have a great network for you when you get in the door. Make your waves, be bold, take chances from your end, and we, the folks at TELUS Digital will be here to support you and embrace you when you arrive. We can’t wait to meet you.
To the TELUS Digital leadership team - thank you again so much for the opportunity and funding to participate in something so impactful and inspiring, and for allowing team members from across the country to join. It still feels so surreal, and we can’t stop reminiscing! Kash Ajayi, who joined us from Vancouver, said “the opportunity to meet and network with my colleagues was unmeasurable,” and we’re inclined to agree. “The fact that [my manager] was intentional about every part of the process, and wanted to make sure I got the best out of it… [it] meant so much to me, knowing that I work in an organization that is invested in my success and personal growth, one that wants to see me thrive in my career,” said Oluchi Agbasi. We hope that TELUS can continue to sponsor team members to attend, and to partner with the conference (and maybe even send some Black executives!) for many years to come.