For an industry committed to innovation, you’d think tech companies would have better employment representation across minority groups. But Black representation remains staggeringly low at the majority of tech companies, where less than 5% of employees are Black. That number drops to less than 2% for Black women.
“We know that gender and racial diversity creates higher quality products, companies, and sectors,” said Nicole McAllister, a customer onboarding manager at ZoomInfo. And while that’s been proven, overall progress toward equal representation has been slow and daily hurdles remain, especially for Black women in tech.
During Women’s History Month, Zoom In Color (ZoomInfo’s Black employee resource group) hosted a discussion where some of our Black female employees spoke about their experience in tech, the personal and professional hardships they’ve had to overcome, and how Black women can find success in this field.
Here’s what they shared.
On Building Relationships
Everyone on the panel expressed the importance of building relationships, both inside and outside of the organization. Allanna Harris, a UX and UI manager, said she had a hard time finding mentors like her, which felt isolating.
“I wish I’d known that I wasn’t going to have a predefined group of people like myself, and that I would have to learn some things and build that network,” Harris said. Today, Harris said she makes sure to offer support to other women around her to ensure they don’t feel alone.
Tia Price, a learning & development manager, quickly learned that building “genuine, non-transactional relationships” was key to success. These are the relationships that will build you up, help you to thrive, and continue to encourage you, she said.
“Surround yourself with people that understand your identity and how it impacts the way that you show up in the world,” Price said. “Make sure your circle never lets you accept failure or defeat as the answer.”
On Battling Imposter Syndrome
Dealing with imposter syndrome — a resounding struggle among our panel — can be a constant battle. It’s important to acknowledge that you belong exactly where you are.
“Getting your job was not a fluke,” said Monique Reavey, a customer delivery manager. “You are valuable and your perspective is valuable.”
The things that make you different from your peers can work toward your advantage, said Nora Ali, an attorney.
“There may be something about your experience that allows you to look at something in a unique way,” Ali said. “If you weren’t meant to be in the room, you wouldn’t be there.”
Crystal Johnson, an HR operations specialist, shared how she deals with imposter syndrome in various areas of her life. As a Black queer woman adopted into a white family, she can feel disconnected from her community. “I combat that by recognizing that we all have different lived experiences, and I have the ability to educate myself in areas I’m less familiar with,” Johnson said.
On Dealing with Microaggressions in the Workplace
Microaggressions — defined as routine, often subtle behaviors that communicate a bias — occur daily, especially in the lives of Black women who face discrimination for both their gender and race.
“In that split second, you need to decide what’s more important, and you have to make a decision of, ‘Do I assert my identity at this moment?’ Or ‘Do I let that go to make the transaction or experience successful?’” said Shara Davis, a sales development representative. “It’s a constant struggle.”
According to a report by LeanIn.org and McKinsey, Black women are more likely to be questioned in their area of expertise and to be asked to provide evidence of their abilities. And they are more than three times more likely than men to have someone in their organization “express surprise about their language skills or other abilities.”
“I just want people to remember that even though we can be highly esteemed, professional, well-off, and hardworking individuals — there’s going to be someone questioning our abilities and hard work,” Reavey said. “We can work hard, we can dress nice, and will still be questioned and oppressed.”
On Balancing Work and Personal Life
Trying to find a balance between work and personal life can be challenging, especially when you feel you have something to prove. Panelists said it’s important to establish healthy boundaries so that you can bring your best self to everything that you do.
“I believe in flexibility within consistency. I show up and try to be as consistent as possible, so that when I do need to take a break, I feel okay with that,” Davis said.
Reavey also reminded the audience that taking time for themselves probably won’t create a life-or-death situation. “I’m not a doctor,” Reavey said. “If I don’t answer an email at 10 p.m., no one is going to die.”
On Being Your Authentic Self
Sarah King, a learning and development manager, said she spent too much time in her career downplaying who she really was, but eventually realized she had more to offer simply by being herself.
“The reality is that Black women provide lots of good ideas, talents, and gifts that benefit the business overall, so be loud, be authentic,” King said.
While the tech industry has a long way to go, we’re working to create more equity in the field. ZoomInfo has over 40% greater Black representation across our sales organizations, and 70% more Black sales managers, than other SaaS companies. We’re dedicated to creating a space where all individuals, regardless of race, background, or gender, feel welcome.
“Tech is for everyone and you deserve to be here,” said Michema Lafontant, a customer onboarding manager.