Achieving Diversity & Inclusion: Q&A With Divine, Part III

Achieving Diversity & Inclusion: Q&A With Divine, Part III

I’ve previously chatted with hip-hop and rap recording artist Divine about his personal journey into technology, the themes of knowledge and power and the similarities and differences between hip-hop and Silicon Valley. In this third and final installment, we bring it all together and discuss if we can bring true diversity to the technology industry — and, if so, how and when.

Will Hayes: We’re getting into the stark realities of tech. Why do you think we don’t see more black people involved in technology?

Divine: The root of the problem is at the early academic level. The majority of blacks are impoverished — that’s been by design — and can’t afford access to or attend private schools to get the education necessary to be competitive in the tech space. Silicon Valley is a seat of power that isn’t even understood from the demographic I come from. There’s some effort in changing that. I’m a proponent of getting my demographic exposed to it.

Hayes: I’ll admit, as a black CEO, hiring is one of the hardest things for a company of a size like Lucidworks. It feels hypocritical that I don’t know what to do.

Divine: You’re only talking about hiring. There are many systems to fix before we get there. Systematic change takes decades. If you’re selecting from a pool of people who have already “made it,” of course you’re going to be limited and the percentages will be low. And among those people who are considered, they often don’t get the job.

You have to look to the beginning: the educational, awareness, access and realization components. Blacks need to become aware the tech industry exists before they can think of entering it. Then, they need access to the highest quality education to be competitive within it.

The future billion-dollar tech companies need to be inclusive from their inception, too. We’ve always had to build black-specific companies in every industry because we’re not welcome and the products and their marketing didn’t relate to us. As a result, we’ve historically been unable to leverage our own $1.1 trillion African American spending power. At 43 million, we’re the largest “minority” in the US. Imagine the possibilities.

Hayes: Diversity has become a mainstream conversation in tech, which points to the idea of desire. I personally don’t think there’s desire other than to placate the folks who are pointing fingers. That creates two problems. First, we’re not getting to the root of the issue and second, the finger pointing requires a reaction — which results in a disingenuous statement to get people off your back.

Divine: It’s the reality of black people. It amazes me how people forget. No one can look at history and be surprised.

That’s why we have to go back to human experience and dig deep into our spiritual selves. Love each other, be empathetic, have compassion, get to know each other and have understanding beyond race, ethnicity, gender, sex and class. Unfortunately, the status quo doesn’t always see strength in equality — it sees power in inequality. Capitalism is supposed to provide equal opportunity for the “American Dream.” On the surface it appears honorable, but in the details is where you find the devil.

Hayes: Talking about inclusion can backfire. Folks will deem you a certain type of person, not want to work with you or, worse, put you in a place where you’re not effective.

Divine: It happens in every industry when you face off against these systematic practices that are biased or outright racist. You’re deemed a “radical” or a “revolutionary.” If it doesn’t serve their agenda of oppression, you’re a threat. If you take that stance politically, they neutralize you with death or imprisonment. I’m appreciative to be in tech, where I have a voice and assist in solving the diversity and inclusion problem via my life story without the same threat. They can exclude me, but at the end of the day it’s only a matter of time before we reach diversity and inclusion.

Hayes: That’s the promise of technology, too — accelerating change. I’m hopeful but disappointed by the fact that the most innovative sector is all about real disruption, but it hasn’t been affected yet.

Divine: Getting $100 million for your startup — what black founder does that happen to? It doesn’t happen. You have to look at individuals. Andreessen Horowitz backs black founders, but they’re one firm. The gap is so wide, it’s going to take work and more than a few VC firms to fix it. The culture of tech is to solve problems, yet so-called minorities are still excluded from engaging in it.

Hayes: There’s a cycle to break —any concentration of people attracts likeminded folks. I keep thinking, when a group of monocromatic men create a dating application together and a hostile environment starts to form, why’s anybody surprised?

A way to fight it: get on folks’ level. A small percentage of people are compassionate and can say, “Yes, this is a problem” and understand why. But everybody understands getting sued, addressable market and upside.

Divine: In tech, to get adoption and critical mass, they put an astronomical amount money behind it, especially if they see it’s potentially a “unicorn.” Now, imagine if they saw the same value in solving the diversity and inclusion problem and put that same money — that same effort, belief, dedication — behind it as if it were a technology product. It would be solved overnight and there would be no diversity or inclusion problem in tech. It has to become a movement within the technology space as a whole, and at the highest levels.

Hayes: That’s the frustrating part. It goes back to whether folks really care. If they did, they have plenty of means to make it happen.

Divine: Absolutely! Look at Wayne Sutton, for example. An investor didn’t really believe him when he said he had individuals who were willing to fund diverse founders. So the investor challenged him and said, “If you get these individuals to put up $100,000, I’ll match it.” So Wayne went to crowdfunding to prove it. I admire his approach. I also applaud what Mitch and Freada Kapor are doing via Kapor Capital. They focus on funding diverse founders and companies that have strong social impact.

Among those pushing for it, their voices are becoming louder and the movement stronger. The dialogue is stronger than it ever was. So in due time the results will follow.


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