Facebook, Netflix and YouTube product managers battle to add black talent

Maryanna Quigless, co-founder of Black Product Managers
The industry must be aware of this reality which representation is not just about placing a few blacks in roles. It’s about hiring black people in high-leverage roles that the product is a part of.

Within technology companies, product managers play a vital role. They’re like mini-CEOs helping their businesses decide what products and features to build and working with teams across the business, including engineering, design, and marketing to get them built.

Building products for millions, if not billions of users, is also a lucrative career, with the national average salary for a product manager hovering around $ 110,000. Senior Product Managers can lead teams of over 100 people, roles that can be a stepping stone to leading positions in the industry, such as a start-up founder, managing director, or venture capitalist.

But product management is a tough career to break into. And, while blacks often over-index as users of technology products, they are only a tiny fraction of product managers, which is part of an industry-wide diversity gap in the industry. predominantly white and male tech world.

“The industry needs to realize this reality that representation is not just about putting a few black people in roles. It’s about hiring black people in very influential roles that the product is a part of, ”Quigless said. “We are responsible for decisions for entire products and we want to see more black people in this role.”

For years, Silicon Valley has attempted to address gaping racial disparities with little success.

Analyzes by USA TODAY and others show that big tech companies employ far fewer women and underrepresented minorities than other industries, even in Silicon Valley. According to the latest US government data released in 2016, African Americans make up 3% of employees in Silicon Valley’s top 75 tech companies, while they hold 24% of jobs in non-tech companies.

An event hosted by Black Product Managers, a grassroots group whose mission is to attract more black people into product management roles and help more black product managers advance to leadership positions.
An event hosted by Black Product Managers, a grassroots group whose mission is to attract more black people into product management roles and help more black product managers advance to leadership positions.
An event hosted by Black Product Managers, a grassroots group whose mission is to attract more black people into product management roles and help more black product managers advance to leadership positions.
BLACK PRODUCT MANAGERS

And it’s not just in technical roles. Minorities at Google and other big tech companies are significantly under-represented in non-technical jobs such as sales and administration, with African Americans doing significantly worse than Hispanics, USA TODAY analysis found in 2014.

National unrest over systemic racism following the police murder of George Floyd has drawn even more attention to the shortage of blacks in tech companies. A wave of firsthand testimony about racial discrimination and prejudice on blogs, social media and in lawsuits often paints a grim picture of the tech industry, with people from non-majority cultural groups labeled ” hires for diversity ”and treated unfairly in everything from pay to promotions.

With the racial problem of high technology comes a growing sense of urgency. The industry risks losing touch with the increasingly diverse nation and world that form its consumer base. At the same time, African Americans are being excluded from some of the highest paying jobs in the American economy.

Could diverse teams create less racist products?

More diverse voices participating in the development process can help companies create more universally appealing products, Quigless said.

And more diverse teams are less likely to inadvertently create racist products. Search results that show smiling white teens and photos of black teens. Instagram filters that lighten the skin or fetishize ethnic features. Snapchat filters that use blackface or caricatures of Asians. Microsoft’s racist chatbot Tay. Google Photos calls black people gorillas.

Tech companies are taking steps to make products more inclusive. This week, Snap, who last year had to apologize for a Nineteenth filter who asked subjects to ‘smile’ while freeing themselves from chains, said he would rethink its camera technology so that it can capture a wider range of skin tones. Axios reported that around 5 billion photos are taken with Snapchat’s camera every day and reflect the way people see themselves and their friends.

Yet a recent survey by the Alliance for Global Inclusion, a coalition of five tech companies that includes Snap and Intel, found that only 1 in 12 large global companies have formal processes to ensure that product design takes into account different cultural backgrounds and capabilities.

Jessie Daniels, professor of sociology at Hunter College who studies race and technology
What we need to do is rethink the culture of many of these companies and how they reproduce racial inequalities, often unintentionally.

“It’s important to really think of product development and this stage as a stage that is not neutral. We tend to think of product development like we think of a lot of things in this culture which is that they are sort of isolated from discussions about breed and just aren’t. . The way products are developed has racial and racial inequalities built into it, ”said Jessie Daniels, a former product manager in the tech industry who is now a professor of sociology at Hunter College who studies race and technology.

“What we need to do is rethink the culture of many of these companies and how they reproduce racial inequalities, often unintentionally,” she said.

Brittany Bankston, senior product manager at start-up MainStreet, co-founded Black Product Managers

Brittany Bankston, senior product manager at start-up MainStreet, co-founded Black Product Managers
Black product managers

Quigless says she regularly detects feature issues in the products she uses on a daily basis and thinks to herself, “A black person hasn’t seen this or been consulted about it.”

She says the default emojis on Venmo are yellow, which makes it look like a white person is paying. In Zoom meetings, her voluminous hair is cut by smart backgrounds.

“What does that mean? It means I’m distorted,” she said. “And black people don’t have a monopoly on being marginalized. It happens in many areas of difference. . “

Nurturing black talent in tech companies

Black Product Managers provides the professional network necessary to nurture black talent, says Walter. He experienced it firsthand.

Walter was nervous when he was hired as the first product manager for Slack’s growth team. Mentors like Bangaly Kaba, who once led growth at Instagram, and Erin Teague, director of product management at YouTube, have helped him learn the ropes and think through tough issues. They also gave him advice on career advancement. Today, he returns the favor by helping other members of Black Product Managers negotiate the next step in their careers.

Jules Walter, co-founder of Black Product Managers
Information asymmetry and lack of access are major problems in the field of technology. Despite the large number of opportunities in the industry, many under-represented people are unaware of these opportunities or have no contacts to help them access them.

“Information asymmetry and lack of access are major problems in the field of technology. Despite the large number of opportunities in the industry, many underrepresented people are unaware of these opportunities or have no contacts to help them access them, ”said Walter. “Through the BPM community, members and allies share what they know and open up opportunities for black talent.”

Last year, the 20 volunteers behind Black Product Managers organized 36 events and launched a handful of programs. The organization estimates that it helped 50 people get promotions or new roles during this time.

“Thanks to networks like BPM, people can completely change their wealth trajectory. They recognize – through mentorship and the community – that they could earn two to three times as much and get jobs they wouldn’t know but rightly deserve, ”Bankston said. “It’s the biggest picture here. We ensure that our community of black product managers are not excluded from long-term professional and economic opportunities. “

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