Minneapolis startup is working to attract more blacks into tech

Black Tech Talent started as a job board. Now, it is building strategic links between workers and companies looking to diversify their ranks.

When 2020 arrived, Michael A. Johnson’s Minneapolis-based events company was taking off. He was in conversation about collaborating with everyone from P. Diddy’s team later Revolt Summit, a series of cultural events focused on hip-hop, brings to Rhymesayers at its annual hip-hop music festival. Then the epidemic struck.

Everything we were negotiating had to be scrapped and the deposit refunded. Johnson remembers. And by his third or fourth stay at home, he realized it was time to rethink his long-term strategy.

“I started thinking about what I could do to stay afloat and continue to help the people in the community I had built.”

That was when Johnson recalled the complaint he had repeatedly faced while planning an earlier conference on black empowerment and technology. “I kept hearing the need for a pipeline” of black talent for tech roles, he says. “It appears that the companies that sponsored the event are ready to hire in a diversified manner.”

Johnson decided to start building this pipeline in Minnesota in April of 2020, and that was the time Black Tech Talent was born.

The organization’s goal is twofold, to help companies find the black techies they’re looking for while connecting black tech workers to role opportunities they rarely have access to. Today, the group boasts more than 7,000 subscribers and counts giants such as Best Buy, BluDot, Minnesota Timberwolves and American Express among its partners.

In the year Johnson launched the Black Tech Talent, blacks made up single-digit percentages of the workforce across the big tech companies. Although fabricated Over 62% of the workforce, blacks made up just 2.9% of the workforce at Salesforce, 3.8% at Facebook, 4.4% at Slack, 4.5% at Microsoft and 6% at Twitter, according to the Los Angeles Times.

William Lazonik, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts and chair of the Academic and Industrial Research Network, explains that such disparities have been persistent — and for a long time in the making.

After coming out of World War II and into the 1960s, the job market was the white man’s world where pensions and lifelong jobs prevailed in one company. With the formation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1965, these long-term benefits previously associated with white male employment began to evaporate as companies—including then-tech giants such as IBM, HP, and Motorola—began to hire more African Americans, but not It is still relatively. small numbers.

Lazonik explains that as the idea of ​​spending an entire career in a company has receded, our social networks are becoming an increasingly important tool for finding jobs. But since there are very few black workers in these companies or in With the elite organizations they often look to hire right from the start, Lazonik says, blacks don’t have the critical social networks they can connect to to find such jobs.

While issues of retention, promotion, and equal pay remain prevalent after the arrival of new hires of color, Black Tech Talent focuses on creating connections to companies that people of color often cannot reach because of these networks. Black Tech Talent started as a job board with a pay-to-post model that charges companies and is free for job seekers.

“The goal was always to be bigger than that,” Johnson says. “Our Trojan horse has been stepping in the door with an affordable product.”

In the summer of 2020, Black Tech Talent expanded into podcasting in order to build brand awareness and highlight blacks in technology.

Last year she hosted her first group The summit, which saw participation from 10 different countries, many from all over Africa. “We wanted to show that not only did our community exist, but that they recognized the value of what we were doing,” he says. This event and other examples create a space for black technologists to connect with corporate sponsors and representatives, and craft the critical internal methods that Lazonik says are essential to success in today’s tech jobs.

Johnson credits Black Tech Talent’s strategic expansion from job board to podcast, and finally to events that have brought so much of its success. “We had a year of rolling out content and using social media marketing to build that narrative. Then holding the summit expanded the community much more, he says. Since then, the growth has been organic.

While it continues to host numerous events including family-focused events aimed at sparking the interests of black children in particular, this year the group began offering direct recruiting services. Johnson is currently working with companies like BluDot to put Black techs into their ranks and with Best Buy to expand the Black Tech Talent effort into Atlanta.

Its average tech workers salaries Divided into six figures, applicant pools are shrinking, and major tech companies’ pledges and marketing to people of color are growing more diverse. However, racial disparities in employment and wages persist.

“This is the moment for us to get economically in and get economically integrated,” Johnson said. We know that the government will not provide any compensation. No one will come to help us. This is a way for us to help ourselves.”


Cinnamon Ganzer is a freelance journalist based in Minneapolis. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, US News & World Report, Rewire.news, and more. She holds an MA in Social Design, specializing in Intervention Design, from the Maryland Institute of Art, and a BA in Cultural Anthropology and Fine Art from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

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