Supporting black people in the UK tech sector - Ronda Zelezny-Green

In this video from Computer Weekly’s annual diversity and inclusion in tech event, in partnership with Spinks, Ronda Zelezny-Green, global head of training and e-learning at the Internet Society, talks about supporting black people in the sector at a time where there has been a focus on racial awakening.

Zelezny-Green lays out some of the roadblocks black people looking for a tech career face, pointing out: “There are several reasons why only 3% of the tech workforce is black.”

Among these roadblocks are algorithms deciding university placements or access to visas, skills that are not needed still being included in job descriptions and hiring being based on who people know.

With there also being a lack of women in the UK’s tech sector, Zelezny-Green states: “Black women in tech, like me, are among the rarest people in the sector.”

Research from BCS recently found women make up around 17% of the UK’s tech sector, while those from a black, African, Caribbean or black British background make up around 2%.

She says people are the main roadblocks for black people in UK tech, with many engaging in intentional behaviours such as racism, stereotyping, micro-aggressions and gaslighting.

If black people survive some of these behaviours in the sector, they still may end up leaving because there is a lack of data surrounding things like racial pay gaps.

She says: “In the absence of this data you’re usually just left with the nagging suspicion you’re unfairly paid.”

As stated by many who took part in Computer Weekly’s annual diversity in tech event, becoming an ally for others in the sector involves concerted action to push things forward and encourage change.

Pointing out that “meaningful allyship” is beneficial to everyone, Zelezny-Green outlines five ways people can act straight away to improve the situation for black people in the tech sector, including:

  1. Recognising that there is a problem, and that you’re likely part of it if you’re not black. Realise it isn’t enough just to be “not racist” and begin to recognise and understand the unique experiences of black people in the sector. Zelezny-Green says: “Recognise blackness. See us, we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere.”
  2. Learn more about the ways your problematic behaviours are affecting black people. For example, claiming not to see people’s colour is like saying someone’s individual experience doesn’t count. Don’t ignore blackness to make yourself feel comfortable. Learn to be anti-racist, and learn the scope of the problem your organisation has.
  3. If you seek expert help when hoping to understand issues faced by black people in the sector, “compensation is a MUST”. Pay people for the horror of reliving these experiences.
  4. Show up and show out – be actively anti-racist.
  5. “Acknowledge this is a marathon and not a race”. It’s a conversation we need to be having all the time until racism no longer exists.

Zelezny-Green summarises by explaining hiring black people in the UK’s tech sector is a commitment to restorative justice, giving back “opportunities to capable people who have been systematically overlooked and excluded”.

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