Recruiting Black tech workers: Will remote work help make Seattle more attractive?


Listen to the 5 minute audio here. 

Seattle has historically had difficulty recruiting and retaining Black tech workers. That’s led to a problem: Compared to the general population, Black tech workers are underrepresented.

But amid the pandemic, local tech companies are tapping into an opportunity to diversify their workforces — remotely.

Herman Haggerty is a Black tech worker from Texas. He moved to Seattle in 2017, to work for Amazon.

Three years later, he left. He said he was tired of not being recognized for his achievements, and was tired of people not knowing how to relate to him.

“I’m not sure if that’s just the quirkiness of engineers, because you know, I’ve been around a lot of engineers and they’re inherently quiet,” Haggerty said. “But you know when they don’t really know how to connect with you.”

Haggerty said that because people didn’t know how to talk to him, they’d leave him out of technical conversations. Instead, they’d attempt to steer the conversation toward something they assumed he’d like: Hip-hop music for example.

This, he said, led to him missing promotion opportunities.

“It always feels like an uphill battle just because of that core competency — of not being able to communicate with each other,” he said. “It seemed like they were always kind of giving me the runaround.”

Haggerty ultimately concluded that this wasn’t an Amazon-specific problem — it’s a Pacific Northwest problem.

In the South, he said, racism is more overt. “In Seattle, it’s more passive. They may not even know that they’re being racist.”

So he moved to Austin, where he said he’s much happier.

“It’s very diverse, and … I mean, the first thing I did when I got off the plane here — a random person said ‘hi’ to me. You forget that people actually talk to each other, in other places.”

caption: Herman Haggerty left Seattle out of frustration. He now lives in Austin Texas, where he works for a tech startup.
Herman Haggerty left Seattle out of frustration. He now lives in Austin Texas, where he works for a tech startup.

Seattle and Portland are two of the whitest cities in the country. That, combined with the so-called Seattle freeze, and a sense that racism is passive in the Pacific Northwest, has discouraged many Black people in general — and Black tech workers specifically — from staying in the region for very long, if they’re even willing to relocate here at all.

A study of Portland found that 97% of Black workers experienced discrimination at work, and only 1% felt welcomed by their communities outside of work. This leaves tech companies that want to diversify their workforces in a difficult position.

Michael Schutzler of the Washington Technology Industry Association said local tech companies go on recruiting missions to cities with bigger Black populations. “There is a giant pool of talent in Atlanta,” for instance, he said. But a lot of people don’t want to leave their communities.

It takes more than just reaching out on the part of employers to solve the problem of underrepresentation, and the issue extends beyond the workplace.

For example, Mark Nyon in New York, said “I have family, friends and community here, people who supported me and helped keep me sane and navigate the challenges of being Black in the tech industry. It would be difficult for me to find that sustenance if I moved out to Seattle.”

Which is where the pandemic – and working remotely comes in.

We used to have this assumption that you had to physically commute into an office every day. But Michael Schutzler said remote work changes everything.

Tech companies can hire workers from places such as Atlanta, D.C., New York, and Houston, and let them work remotely from those cities.

“That creates a completely new dynamic for who it is they’re recruiting,” Schutzler said. “And suddenly, you are seeing a larger number of women and people of color in the entering classes than you did before.”

Multiple Black tech workers told KUOW they’ve been receiving more and more messages on LinkedIn about remote work, lately. But the extent of the trend and what it means for Seattle in the long run remain unclear.

If workers don’t have to relocate to Seattle, does that mean Seattle could actually become less diverse than it is now?

Not if Abas Hersi can help it. He’s an 18-year-old Black computer science student who just started Seattle’s chapter of an organization called Blacks in Technology. He lives in Tukwila, a city that’s 17% Black as compared to Seattle’s 7%.

“It’s a lot cheaper to live here than it is to live in Seattle,” Hersi said. “But realistically I’m hoping to get employed in Seattle. And so, I think that would be a great combination of me not abandoning my roots and still finding employment in the tech industry in Seattle.”

This is one strategy recommended by Partners in Diversity, the organization that produced that study about Portland:

They recommend that communities educate, empower and promote the Black workforce already living nearby. That way, hiring Black tech workers doesn’t have to mean recruiting them away from their friends and families.

Hersi believes this strategy could address the root of the problem. “This would help put the Black community at large in a better position financially in order to cope with the rising costs of living, so that it can mitigate the effects of gentrification,” he said.


MarTech Live: How to Truly Diversify Your Staff

MarTech next week: a personal choice

With so many sessions next week, here’s a plan to navigate through those three days.

Kim Davis on October 1, 2020 at 4:05 pm

It’s finally here. The big fall 2020 MarTech conference, virtual of course, with almost 80 sessions all supporting our theme: MarTech is marketing.

With so many sessions, attendees are going to have some tough choices to make. Here’s how I plan to navigate my way through those three days.

The keynotes. First, I always look at the keynotes. Chief Martec himself, Scott Brinker, kicks off day one by naming the five martech trends for the decade ahead. Just five, and for a decade? Scott’s a brave man. On day two, Brian Solis, Global Innovation Evangelist, Salesforce, describes “Generation Novel,” a critical customer segment created by the pandemic. What I’ve heard. from someone familiar with the content, is that this is a richly detailed piece of thought leadership. A must watch.

Check the full MarTech agenda here.

Finally, on day three, we’ll have some fun with the annual Stackie Awards. I’ve had a glimpse of the entries, and I can tell you that entrants are reaching new heights when it comes to design — the visual representation of their stacks. After Scott calls the winners, I’ll be chatting with him about themes and trends in the stack world.

Marketing stacks. Which brings me to one theme I see highlighted throughout the conference: where marketing stacks are headed and how to get the best out of them. “The Beauty Of The Beast: How To Optimize Your Monstrous Martech Stack,” presented by Helen Abramova of Verizon and Matthew Gomez of Walden University stands out, but there are a string of sessions on the present and future stack: see Tony Byrne of Real Story Group on “Future-Proofing Your Martech Stack.”

That’s not all. You can put together a route through the schedule focusing on any one of these topics: CDPs, content experience and analytics, data rights and privacy, digital transformation, email marketing, SEO and AI. It depends on what your immediate needs are, both for your organization and your own professional development.

MarTech Live. And I can’t wrap up here without a mention for MarTech Live, which will be broadcasting truly live each day at 4:45pm ET. I’ll be hosting the first session, a look at the virtual event stack with Vasil Azarov of the Growth Marketing Conference, and our own Marc Sirkin. I’ll also be closing the conference with a fireside chat featuring Christopher Penn of on what we’ve learned from the week.

But I particularly want to draw your attention to the Wednesday session, hosted by MarTech Today editor Rodric Bradford. He’ll be convening a panel to discuss a topic of growing importance: “How to Truly Diversify Your Staff.” His guests: Dennis Schultz of the Blacks In Technology Foundation and Elizabeth Cotton, founder of Career Mingle. Feel free to invite your HR colleagues or anyone else from your organization to that one.

Plenty to think about, and I look forward to hanging out with you all. And I mean it: I’ll be in the virtual networking lounge each afternoon, a forum where you can network with your fellow attendees and MarTech Today staffers.


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Kim Davis

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech Today. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space. He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020. Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.


Blacks In Technology to Help Provide Tech Mentors for Africa


Ohio – Blacks In Technology announces collaboration with SDscope to provide support and expertise to aspiring technologists in Africa. Zimbabwe based SDscope has launched an initiative to source global mentors in various technical disciplines for Zimbabwe and the entire continent of Africa and Blacks In Technology is leading the way. 
“Blacks In Technology is a great organization to partner with as they offer us the potential to access resources we need to serve our market well,” says Shepherd Fungayi CEO of SDscope. “The size of the organization and the range of skills of their members, as well as their close relationships with key technology companies, will boost our ability to build capacity in digital technology and application in Africa.” Fungayi continued. 
“We believe it’s necessary to provide our members an opportunity to give back. It’s even more important that we can leverage our collective expertise to help uplift Africa and provide global best practices to the continent.” says Dennis Schultz, Executive Director of the Blacks In Technology Foundation. 
About SDscope
SDscope accelerates and supports the adoption of digital technology in Africa by building a platform for digital technology practitioners and users in Africa based on strong connections with leading technology companies and experts from around the world, and delivering state-of-the-art in digital strategy definition and execution, digital technology implementation and support, digital talent development, and digital services to organizations and independent consultants. We also accelerate digital technology startups by connecting them to funding and talent, as well as fostering collaboration with, and access to funding from, innovation-hungry enterprises.

About the Blacks In Technology Foundation
Blacks In Technology is the largest global community of Black technologists with a combined membership and social media reach of over 50,000. The Blacks In Technology (BIT) Foundation’s goal and mission is to “stomp the divide” between Black tech workers and other groups, and to fundamentally influence and effect change on an industry that has historically not sought parity with respect to Black workers. BIT’s intent is to level the playing field through training, education, networking, and mentorship with the support of allies, partners, sponsors, and most importantly our global members. The Blacks in Technology Foundation is the official 501(c)(3) non-profit entity of Blacks in Technology, LLC.

Dennis Schultz, Executive Director
Blacks In Technology Foundation