The benefits of diversity in the workplace are well-studied, and include crucial aspects like better innovation, better decision-making, lower turnover, and faster problem-solving. Companies that don't prioritize equal representation are at a distinct disadvantage. Encouraging greater diversity is not only the right thing to do; diversity in any group makes it stronger and more resilient.
Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are chronically lacking in diversity. An article in Wired outlines the facts and figures from a U.S. perspective, and a column in Scientific American explains why diversity in science matters. Suffice it to say, ensuring a multitude of perspectives is vital to the future of STEM fields.
Individuals and organizations are working for equal representation in STEM all over the world, and we wanted to highlight a few of them paving the way for better inclusion. This series of interviews features individuals and organizations working to bring underrepresented groups into STEM fields, and to build and sustain supportive environments that don't push people out.
Blacks in Technology (BIT) is known as the largest community and media organization focusing on Black people in the technology industry, offering resources and guidance. Its mission is to increase the representation and participation of Black people in tech. We asked the chairman and founder of BIT, Greg Greenlee, a few questions via email to learn more about BIT and the work it does.
International Society of Automation: Why did you start Blacks in Technology?
Greg Greenlee: I founded Blacks In Technology to provide a space for Black people in tech to a) connect and engage with one another; b) learn from one another; c) support one another in our tech careers, endeavors, and journeys; d) create a sense of community amongst Black people in tech; e) provide positive images to others in or aspiring to be in tech...or just tech-curious.
ISA: Does BIT have any involvement in projects related to IoT/IIoT, robotics, smart manufacturing, and/or industrial cybersecurity? How does equal representation in tech fields make tech better?
GG: Well, first off, at this juncture we are looking at not being underrepresented. Black people make up 13% of the population in the United States but only 2% in the tech field. This is well-known. We are a long way off from equal representation, but we would like for the numbers to be reflected equally in tech. It would make it better because diversity of thought has always made things better throughout history. This is not new. Products, laws, policies, art, music, everything benefits from diversity, so why wouldn't tech be the same? It would allow for better products and better services to not only be built—but built to serve and benefit a much wider consumer market and audience, period.
ISA: What is BIT doing to work toward this?
GG: Our mission is simple: to increase the representation and participation of Black people in tech. From engineers and entrepreneurs to designers and marketing people... we are looking to not only help provide educational resources that could help progress the careers of Black people already working in technology, but to also provide visibility, a network, a safe space, and a community that can help broaden the reach of technology in our community but also help to show that this field is a great option for us to be in.
We partner with organizations and companies to help provide training and educational resources. We organize events—in person and now virtual—to help us learn about more opportunities that are available and help to grow our knowledge.
We have been organizing an annual tech conference called BITCon where we pay talented and knowledgeable Black people in tech to come in and showcase their expertise to a huge audience. It’s a true tech conference where techies, engineers, and others come to bond with one another, build relationships, support one another, and elevate one another. We had to cancel this year due to COVID, but we hope to be back in 2021.
Our 501(c)(3) non-profit, BIT Foundation (foundation.blacksintechnology.net), is the home to close to 20 local BIT chapters nationwide (with more on the way). We offer free membership with opportunities for training, discounts, scholarships, and more.
ISA: The demographics of industrial and systems engineering are very homogenous. As more Black people enter and stay in engineering fields, how do think these fields will evolve?
GG: What will happen is the same thing that happens anytime a culture, a race of people, enters into a field that has historically kept them out. We elevate it. We enhance it. We provide value to it. We add our unique experiences, our creativity, and perspectives to help that field expand beyond its limited and oftentimes homogenous view. It’s a natural thing that happens, ultimately making it a diverse and welcoming field.
ISA: Is there anything I didn’t address that you would like to add?
GG: Visit our website (www.blacksintechnology.net), and there you can check out our non-profit (BIT Foundation). You can learn more about our org, our community, and the people involved in it by reading the articles and listening to the podcasts—and joining a local chapter as a member. Sign up for our newsletter to get updates on events and opportunities. Follow us on all of our social media and join our Slack channel. Links are all on the site.
A previous article in this series featured the organization Finding Ada and their international celebration of women in tech called Ada Lovelace Day. Find out more here.
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