It’s possible to bring tech jobs to struggling cities without displacing residents—and Baltimore is proof
We’re experiencing a record-setting spate of historic “firsts.” Will that matter? Your employee support efforts may actually be traumatizing your already traumatized people. Oh, and what’s the opposite of gentrification? Jonathan Vanian on how to build a tech hub in an underserved city that creates opportunity for the people who already live there.
But first, here’s your Jan 6 insurrection anniversary week in review, in Haiku.
You can try to tell
me: That was not an angry
mob you saw that day
You can try to tell
me: Those were just patriots
You can try to tell
me: “Elections. Economics.
Antifa. The Feds.”
But you cannot tell
any of this to Eugene
Goodman, a good man
who faced the taunts, threats,
violence: Deadly duty,
and dream now deferred
Wishing you a peaceful weekend.
In places like the San Francisco Bay Area that are home to thriving tech industries, it’s not uncommon for there to exist wealth disparity problems involving communities of color.
One of the main reasons for this disparity is that San Francisco and other hubs in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, and Boston, have all boomed without taking into account the “the people in our cities who've been left behind,” says Jaime McDonald, the CEO of the UpSurge public-benefit corporation, which is attempting to nurture a tech hub in the city of Baltimore, Md.
As part of UpSurge’s plans to foster a thriving Baltimore tech community, McDonald says the firm is taking a “kind of the anti-gentrification model” to ensure that communities of color are partaking in any tech-created wealth and are not displaced by the industry.
Kory Bailey, UpSurge’s director of relationship development, notes how places he lived in that built tech hubs—like the Raleigh-Durham area and Indianapolis—leaders did “a great job of pulling in, you know, local government state resources into their strategy, but didn't necessarily account for diversity at the beginning” when fostering tech developments.
“There was a coalition of people that came together and said, ‘Hey, we need to transition our major economic structure from tobacco and textiles into tech,’” Bailey remembers them saying. But because the coalition “did not account for the local population,” the result was that “people were displaced as property values rose as development started to happen.”
As UpSurge studies how different cities created their own tech hubs, Bailey says they want to learn how those places accomplished “all the great things that they did to spur economic growth, but also be mindful of how we interact and engage the local population to be not just included in that, but feel like they belong.”
UpSurge has several partners including Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, T. Rowe Price, and the Techstars startup accelerator. Some of the tasks that UpSurge and its partners aim to do is showcase the often arcane world of technology to the city’s communities of color, as many Baltimoreans have “never known a person in tech,” McDonald says.
“They've never been shown the excitement and the possibility to grow within a startup and to understand like the excitement of working in a very future-focused company,” she says.
Bailey says her firm wants to showcase to Baltimorean people like Isaac Kinde, who attended the University of Maryland Baltimore County, a “leading university in the country for graduating Black scientists.” In 2020, Kinde, a Black startup founder who also attended Johns Hopkins, sold his startup Thrive to Exact Sciences Corp for $2.15 billion.
“We have this foundation on which to build this next generation of Black technologists and scientists that is, I think, second to none in the country,” Bailey says. “And people don't know it yet, but they will.”
She adds: “And part of what our job is with Upsurge is to tell these stories to show young Black Baltimoreans who don't realize that this isn't somebody else far away, this is them.”
Will these series of historic firsts matter? We live in a world where the first ever <identity goes here> in a powerful role still makes the news. And on some level, they matter a lot.
There’s Ken Welch, the first-ever Black mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida, a victory that had been “inconceivable” until he won.
The first-ever Asian American mayor of Cincinatti, Aftab Pureval, says a historically diverse slate of council members is a “mandate from the public to execute on our bold vision.”
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania has its first Black and first woman mayor. Really!
Newly minted Lowell, Massachusetts mayor is the first Cambodian American mayor in the country. “I was a refugee, now I’m mayor of a major city in Massachusetts,” said Sokhary Chau.
The National Park Service is now run by its first-ever tribal leader, a man with extraordinary credentials filling a post that had been ignored by the Senate for five years.
Taken together, each of these firsts describes a spate of overlooked needs that representation can address, and I hope that the collective good news creates breakthroughs across the board. But it feels fraught. Should we be concerned that New York City never conducted a health survey of its Native American-Indigenous residents until last year? (Can you guess what they discovered?) And while we celebrate the fact that the American Girl franchise has announced the first ever Asian American Girl of the Year doll during a time of unaddressed violence toward the AAPI community, it’s also worth wondering what took New York so long to welcome the first-ever bookstore owned by an Asian American woman.
Firsts are important, and I will continue to cover them. But what comes next, is what matters more.
This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ashley Sylla.
Corporations: You’re traumatizing your traumatized employees Last year, I posited that for true empathy to be present, leaders needed to have a baseline understanding of trauma and how it effects the lives of people around them, both pre- and post-COVID.
But what if the corporate response re-traumatizes people?
For The Corporate Playbooks Used to Combat Organizational Trauma (And Why They're Not Enough), a team of researchers asked design professionals living in the U.S. to share how their workplaces responded to the traumas experienced in 2020. “We decided to focus on the experiences of design professionals because of the unique ways trauma can emerge in design settings given how the work often resides at the intersection of being human-centered in profit-driven environments,” they say in the report.
From there, the team was able to identify four types of institutional responses, or “corporate playbooks,” —The DIY-er, The Empty Empathizer, The Minimizer, and The Performer—that aim to address the needs of employees. The report—and upcoming webinar on Jan 18—digs into how these interventions often made things worse. “These playbooks exacerbated the traumatizing dynamics within organizations,” and were “just as harmful as the problems they were meant to address because they prioritized efficiency and productivity over the care of individuals.”
While the specific trauma triggered by the pandemic is still top of mind— the shift to remote work, re-organizations and layoffs— the report also includes the day-to-day issues that inform the lives of lots of employees, like discrimination, harassment, and microaggressions. “Most striking was how many design professionals focused on the emotional burdens inherent in their research,” including things that will be familiar to many like, “having to constantly advocate for the value of their job,” and “being the torch bearer for ethical research and design in a resistant organization.”
HmntyCntrd is a new venture from Vivianne Castillo, a former Salesforce executive who brought human-centered design research to C-Suite customers, and who is now building building a multi-hyphenate community of practitioners dedicated to helping individuals and systems thrive. Her advice to anyone reading the study and feeling called out by the results is to take a breath and go within. "I want people to stop and ask themselves, 'Are we treating workplace trauma as a business problem or a human problem?'" she says. “I want people to be able to look at this problem of organizational trauma and realize that you can’t treat this like scaling a sales team.”
This is the web version of raceAhead, Fortune’s daily newsletter on race, culture, and inclusive leadership. To get it delivered daily to your inbox, sign up here.