AfroTech Is a Catalyst for an Emboldened Workforce


Ten UCLA Anderson MBA students discovered living proof that there is a diverse pipeline for tech
 
From left to right Sara Matthew (’20), Luis Preciado (’20), Lesley Gwam (’20), DaJuan Bennett (’20), Gabrielle Clark (’20), Rhian Rogan (’20), Vanessa Carvajal (’20), and Alem Bulcha (’21) on Day 3 of AfroTech.

Businesses today sometimes point to a lack of diverse talent pools to say that it’s difficult to find and hire people of color and women. The experience of 10 UCLA Anderson students at the annual AfroTech conference, held in Oakland each fall, makes it hard to substantiate those claims.

Read on to learn about the students’ AfroTech experience, told jointly by Gabrielle Clark (’20), Luis Preciado (’20), Vanessa Carvajal (’20), DaJuan Bennett (’20), Lesley Gwam (’20), Sara Matthew (’20), Rhian Rogan (’20), Kaylan Young (’21), Alem Bulcha (’21) and Gaelen LaMelle-Brown (’21).


UCLA Anderson’s Easton Technology Management Center and Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion sponsored our group of 10 MBA students to attend AfroTech, a conference that brings together a community of more than 10,000 attendees to take part in programming that intersects media, technology, social issues and the experience of being a diverse person in tech. Speakers included Kobie Fuller, partner at Upfront Ventures, and a host of other tech professionals from startups like Airtable and established firms like Google and Amazon, as well as the late chairman and CEO of Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente, Bernard J. Tyson.

Attending AfroTech was an incredible experience, providing us opportunities to network with talented black individuals and listen to engaging speakers across a variety of topics. Throughout the conference, we were able to meet and renew connections with other diverse members of the tech community, helping to build and strengthen our professional networks. As MBA candidates preparing to become leaders in the technology industry, we learned many valuable lessons that we will carry forward throughout our careers, including:

  • It’s important for women and minorities to be a part of developing training AI because there are often biases in the data being used.
  • Having mentors and sponsors are key for building your career; this is especially true for women and people of color.
  • Diversity already exists in tech, but businesses need to change the way they hire if they want to change who gets hired.
  • Streaming services are leading the change in sourcing diverse content, in part because of the subscription business model versus the traditional advertising model, which helps to show all facets of blackness.
  • Diversity in tech already exists, we’re just not looking in the right places: With over 10,000 (mostly black) attendees this year, AfroTech is living proof that there is a diverse pipeline for tech.

AfroTech was a catalyst for an incredible two days during which we learned from and connected with truly amazing professionals in the technology industry. We left AfroTech feeling empowered not only because of the speakers, but also because of the story behind the event’s creation. The founders of Blavity, a black-owned media company, identified a need to build a community among black individuals in tech and those looking to enter the industry. And with events such as AfroTech, we inch closer to a more emboldened and diverse workforce.

Special thanks to UCLA Anderson’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Easton Technology Management Center for your support! We hope that AfroTech brings together a larger audience each year and that Anderson continues to sponsor students to attend the conference.

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