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Why companies committed to diversity in tech are still selecting from the same talent pool

February 11, 2022, 10:04 PM UTC

Mary J. Blige is going to the Super Bowl, again, and for Black History Month we take a look at names, places, and the pain of Black folks. All that, plus Jonathan Vanian reports on the surprising places where Black tech talent can be found, and why they’re not being snapped up.

But first, here’s your Mary J.Blige-is-going-to-the-Super-Bowl-with-female-power week in review in Haiku.

Good morning, gorgeous!
Girl be yourself; stop running 
from the beautiful

Queen you’re becoming
Don’t worry ‘bout, be ashamed
or afraid to change.

Empty? Don’t let it
end me, I say: Need that peace
replace the self-hate

Look in your life, see
what you’ve seen, and when you are
feeling down, don’t you

fake it, time to take
it, find that peace of mind and 
you will see sunshine

Before I go: I want to hear from you! Please take a few minutes to complete this short raceAhead survey.

Wishing you a peaceful and powerful weekend.

Ellen McGirt

In brief

Companies that want to hire more people of color who are skilled in artificial intelligence should look outside the typical techie hubs of Silicon Valley and New York City.

Atlanta, GA, for instance, is the number one U.S. city in terms of the size of the talent pool of Black A.I. practitioners, says Bhaskar Chakravorti, the dean of global business at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. Other cities that are home to relatively big numbers of Black A.I. professionals include Washington DC, Baltimore, and Houston, he adds.

Chakravorti is an expert about A.I. talent hubs in the U.S. and across the world. Working with the startup SeekOut to analyze millions of resumes and social media feeds, Tufts University was able to map out various A.I. hot spots in locations that many companies may overlook.

For instance, cities like Miami, Houston, and Los Angeles are home to a sizeable number of Hispanic A.I. practitioners, based on the university’s analysis.

As COVID-19 pandemic has led to a boom in remote work, it’s become more common for technologists of color to remain “in cities where they see more people like themselves,” Chakravorti says.

Companies that want to build diverse technology teams should realize that not every person of color wants to leave their community to places where they feel like outsiders.

“So now if I allow people to be recruited [remotely], and they work in places where they're closer to their communities, I’m more likely to be able to recruit more people who are traditionally underrepresented,” Chakravorti says.

Looking outside the conventional locations also “creates a window of opportunity for the tech firms to actually really put their money where their mouth is.”

“They’ve been talking up and down about diversifying the workforce for the last several years,” he says. “Not much has changed.”

It’s likely some executives may believe that by hiring technologists of color who don’t hail from Stanford University or MIT, they stand to inherent an inferior workforce, a deeply prejudiced belief.

Leaders should recognize that there’s incredible talent coming from schools like Georgia Tech, the University of Mississippi, or historically Black colleges that have esteemed science, technology, and engineering departments, he adds.

Chakravorti says that one of the problems with corporate human resources teams is that “they are extremely risk averse.” These HR staff might fear that their managers will complain to them about why they hired a technologist from Georgia Tech as opposed to Stanford. If these hiring teams truly want to diversify their workforce, they need to be comfortable expanding their thinking.

As Chakravorti says, there are “phenomenal kids” out there with the tech and machine learning chops that companies crave. They just may have earned those skills at local state schools or they lack the money to move to places like the Bay Area.

Companies would be wise to give these people of color a chance.


Jonathan Vanian 

On point, Mary J.

I caught up with Mary J. Blige recently, something I never thought I’d get to say. She did not disappoint. She is a remarkable woman, a true survivor and has been unusually forthright about her struggles with addiction, depression, abusive relationships, and suicidal ideation. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul has learned all the things. “Once I realized that I'd given so much, I'd suffered long enough, and I chose me and I chose life, that's where the boundaries start,” she told me. “Now you know who to have around you, you know how much to give, because you've been there before, you know how painful that is. Do you want to go through that pain again? Do you want to be in a relationship like that again? And now it's okay to know my worth.” You won’t need to be a hip-hop fan to be moved by Mary J. Blige’s My Life, the documentary that shows how a shy kid from the projects in Yonkers, New York, found her place in music history. We discussed it in detail. But what you need to understand is how she gave life to millions of fans who had gone unseen by others, and they returned the favor by shining their light into her heart. I am in no way exaggerating. For more of my extraordinary half-hour conversation with her, tune into the California Conference for Women, which will stream it live on March 2, 2022. Things got very real, in the best possible way.

California Conference for Women


 This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

On Black History Month background

Back in the day, distinctively Black names offered a real advantage  Numerous research has shown that people with distinctively Black names are discriminated against in employment, education and health care scenarios. But this fascinating working paper from economic historians Lisa Cook, Trevon Logan and John Parman found that in the past, Black men with obviously Black names lived longer than other Black men. The team examined over three million death certificates from Alabama, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina issued between 1802 to 1970 and found a “robust within-race mortality difference,” which added more than one year of life to men with Black-sounding names. Prepare to nerd out, their methodology is fascinating, and still evolving. “Overall, the results suggest cultural factors may be at play in both the transmission of distinctively black names and their mortality effects,” they say.
National Bureau of Economic Research

Why not lose a little time to history?  The New York Public Library has, I believe, the largest collection of Green Books, all of which are digitized and searchable. From the introduction to the 1949 edition: “With the introduction of this travel guide in 1936, it has been our idea to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable. The Jewish press has long published information about places that are restricted and there are numerous publications that give the gentile whites all kinds of information… There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.”
New York Public Library

The pain of Black folk  Applied empathy is the promise of this “Notes From the Field,” an extraordinary work by award-winning playwright Anna Deavere Smith, adapted from a stage play of the same name to run on HBO. The documentary is a solo performance based on some 250 interviews with real people and focused on the criminal justice system. The work focuses on eighteen real stories including Rep. John Lewis and Kevin Moore, the man who accidentally videotaped the Baltimore police beating Freddie Gray. Writer Jamil Smith says she is the most empathetic person in America. “She takes on the personas of folks from every state and tells their stories and truths, empathizing with virtually anyone to ensure that we hear everyone. Beyond the controversial subjects her plays tackle, the uncanny ability to empathize is a lesson that we should take from her art.”

Mood board

"Good Morning Gorgeous"—and Happy Friday from Miss Mary J.
Leon Bennett—Getty Images

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