Celebrating the legacy of Black brilliance
We belong because we were already there.
When I think of Black brilliance, I remember Alana Ward Robinson, one of the first Black female engineers hired at IBM where I started my own journey in the tech sector. The inroads and impact she made as she stood as one of the few Black women leaders in tech at the time motivated me to keep striving for greatness even when I felt alone or isolated in an industry that had few mentors or leaders that looked like me.
I’m inspired by all the Black inventors that helped revolutionize America. Innovators like Mark Dean who was instrumental in developing the PC and Jesse Russell who transformed the digital cellular system made me realize my own potential – that I could be just as creative and brilliant as them.
When I started my career, I was the only Black woman on the sales team which garnered many uncomfortable looks and comments from my customers. At that time, women and minorities were rarely given the opportunity to work in the large accounts division in sales. I even faced meetings with customers who would get up and leave because I didn’t “look” like I worked in sales. Nevertheless, despite all of the negativity and racism, I showed up and climbed my way up the corporate ladder.
Black brilliance isn’t an anomaly and I’m certainly not an outlier. There is a legacy of ingenuity that comes before me and I’m reminded time and time again: I belong because we were already there.
Early on, I couldn’t even imagine seeing a Black CEO but I’ve lived to see plenty in my lifetime. I recognize that there aren’t nearly enough- but we are slowly progressing. I see that same pattern in the tech industry. Companies are increasingly prioritizing DEI, however, diverse representation in tech is still lagging.
Empowering the next generation of Black brilliance
According to Forbes, just 25% of engineers identify as women, 7.3% as Latino, and just 4.7% as Black. The technology products we all use day in and day out need to be built by the diverse populations of our society for true innovation to occur and here at Karat we are committed to making this happen. Luckily, there is not a shortage of Black engineers nor Black brilliance.
I have spent hundreds of hours connecting with young Black students studying Computer Science, and many are paralyzed by what I call “F.U.D.” (fear, uncertainty and doubt). These young Black software engineers don’t realize their brilliance because of the systemic lack of opportunities and access they have faced. Our program Brilliant Black Minds is committed to closing the Access Gaps that exist for Black engineers and providing free practice interviews, live coaching feedback and career development learning sessions.
A 2020 McKinsey study tracked six years of data and found that more ethnically and culturally diverse businesses are 36% more profitable than the least diverse companies. Our companies need diverse talent and more importantly, society is better because of it.
Without Black brilliance, there would be no home security systems, no three-signal traffic lights, and no automated elevator doors. By investing in the next generation of Black engineers, we honor the legacy of Black brilliance both past and present as we work together to create the future.
This week is special, not only because it’s the beginning of Black History Month but also the launch of our spring session of the Brilliant Black Minds program with three new partners: Tribaja, Codehouse, ADA Academy and a continuation of our partnership with Jopwell, Howard University, Morehouse College, North Carolina A&T and University of Carolina Charlotte.
To the next generation of Black engineers- I say, dream big. Shine bright. And never give up on your dream. Always know that you have an entire community who are committed to your growth and development at Karat and through the Brilliant Black Minds program.
Remember, you belong because we were already there.
Get to know Portia
Q: Why Karat?
Portia: Karat was committed to diversity & inclusion from day one. And I didn’t feel that Karat saw color in me, they just saw my excellence. I’m part of a company that is set out to change the way the tech industry hires, and we’re doing that for everybody to have a seat at the table. The Brilliant Black Minds program is one step in that direction, and I’m beyond excited and optimistic about the impact we are making today, and the opportunities we are unlocking for tomorrow.
Q: Book you’d recommend that everyone should read:
P: Soar with your strengths by Donald O Clifton & Paula Nelson
Q: A favorite piece of art in your home?
P: Pas De Deux by William Tolliver.
Q: A favorite musician of yours?
Q: Favorite sports team?
P: Kansas City Chiefs, led by Patrick Mahomes. Okay?!!
Q: An app on your phone that you can’t live without?
P: Nordstrom App
Q: Current favorite song?
P: Anything you can do the Kansas City two-step to!
This month, we’re celebrating Black brilliance within our community at Karat. Keep an eye out for our next feature story next week!
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