Why Black History Is Critical to the Future of Tech

Black technologists helped make the industry great. Here’s how two companies are keeping that legacy going.

Written by Eva Roethler
Published on Feb. 03, 2022
Why Black History Is Critical to the Future of Tech
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The tech industry wouldn’t be where it is without the contributions of brilliant Black technologists. 

Have you used a GIF on Slack today? Thank Lisa Gelobter, a Black computer scientist who helped pave the way for animation on the web. Have you used a computer microphone on Zoom today? Consider the 2006 National Medal of Technology and Innovation laureate James E. West, who co-invented electret technology that was once utilized in 90 percent of the world’s microphones. Have you popped a video game cartridge into a Nintendo Switch recently? Take a moment to appreciate Gerald Lawson, who helped create the first video game console with interchangeable game cartridges, which earned him a reputation as “the father of modern gaming.”

Toni Ligons, the director of diversity and inclusion at San Francisco-based gaming company 2K, wants to help carry that torch into the future of gaming. 

“We see Black History Month as an opportunity to celebrate and educate our communities about the contributions that Black people have made across our company and within the gaming industry,” said Ligons. The company is channeling its celebration into action by empowering the futures of Black technologists and supporting initiatives such as Black Girls Who Code. 

While Black History Month provides tech companies the opportunity to celebrate Black legacies, it is imperative to uplift Black tech employees year-round to create environments where brilliant Black technologists can thrive in the future. Having a dedicated diversity officer, such as Ligons, at an organization is one approach to creating a lasting impact. 

Other approaches include building strong employee resource groups, ensuring Black employees are involved with internal processes, offering unique networking experiences and supporting early career development of Black talent. For more insight, Built In San Francisco checked in with 2K and another local company, SaaS security platform Zscaler, for more details on their programming to uplift — and build the future for — Black legacies in February and beyond.

 

Toni Ligons
Director, Diversity and Inclusion • 2K

 

In honor of Black History Month, what is your company doing this year to celebrate Black history? 

We have several engagements planned, including virtual mixers, listening sessions, panel discussions, volunteer events and employee contribution opportunities. 2K plans to make several contributions to Black community impact groups. We’re proud of our community partnerships with Gameheads, Project Still I Rise, The Hidden Genius, Black Girls Who Code and Play Marin. We’ll encourage employees to volunteer and get involved with these organizations. 

 

What other activities or charitable initiatives do you have planned for Black History Month?

We also encourage employee volunteering through our own 2K Foundations initiative, which focuses on basketball court and community center renovation in underserved communities, as well as STEM education, mentorship access and sports programming. Additionally, 2K will fund employee contributions to the King Center, a well-known not-for-profit focused on nonviolent social change.

We continually empower the voices of our Black employees by involving them as key partners during product review sessions.”

 

What are some ongoing programs, initiatives or benefits your company offers to support and empower Black employees throughout the year?

Our Black @2K employee resource group has been pivotal to supporting and shaping the programs that empower 2K employees and the broader community. There are multiple community events we participate in that recognize and celebrate Black culture, such as NBA2K Behind the Scenes, which specifically supports Black youth, giving them access to unique learning and networking experiences. We’ve launched partnerships with several highly reputable historically Black colleges and universities to drive early career hiring through our internship program. We continually empower the voices of our Black employees by involving them as key partners during product review sessions. Their voices are critical to sparking awareness and driving critical conversations about representation across all of 2K’s games.

  

 

Michelle Smith
Sr. Director, Talent Acquisition, Americas Engineering, Product, and G&A • Zscaler

 

In honor of Black History Month, what is your company doing this year to celebrate Black history? 

We have a full month of activities planned to celebrate Black history. To start, we will share a Black history fact every day during the month of February. We started this tradition in February of 2021, each week in February we explore Black history moments in cinema through discussions of movies. This year we will review Judas and the Black Messiah, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Red Tails, which we are co-sponsoring with our veterans ERG. 

Speaking of collaboration, we will also collaborate with our Women’s ERG in a book club discussion of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. We’ll close out the month with a panel discussion featuring a few of our Black technical professionals as they share their experiences of being one of the few — if not the only — person of color in the room as they progressed in their careers in engineering.

 

What are some ongoing programs, initiatives or benefits your company offers to support and empower Black employees throughout the year?

Our Black Employees resource group, B @ Z, has been very active in our first year. In addition to our Black History programming and the day of service, we’ve hosted a fireside chat with Bob Ferrell, the vice president of public sector strategy and diversity and inclusion at World Wide Technology. He shared some genuine nuggets of inspiration with our employees. We also held a company town hall to celebrate Juneteenth’s recognition as an official federal holiday. We have a formalized mentor program that is open to all employees but was started as a collaboration between our Women’s ERG and Black Employee ERG. While Covid-19 has made getting together a challenge, we’ve held a number of virtual-first Friday networking activities, including book club discussions.

Our Black Employees resource group, B @ Z, has been very active in our first year.”


What other activities or charitable initiatives do you have planned or have you recently completed?

We’ve initiated a quarterly volunteer day, which kicked off just this week in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Additionally, on January 19, we had 20 volunteers serve at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley. We sorted 24,000 pounds of food during our 3-hour shift. 

 

 

Responses have bene edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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