IT Profession: Peril or Opportunity for African Americans?

Don Tennant

I've written fairly extensively about African Americans in IT over the years, not because I claim to have any brilliant insights about the challenges faced by African Americans in this industry, but because I feel strongly that the topic warrants a lot more attention than it tends to get. So when I came across a blog post that lambasted "racism, prejudice and oppression" not just in IT, but specifically in social networking and cloud computing, my interest was piqued.


The post was written in November by a blogger in New York identified only as "Socialforce." Assuming the photo on the blog is of himself, Socialforce is an African American male who appears to be in his late 20s or early 30s. Here's an excerpt:

The Information Technology, Social Media Marketing, and Cloud Computing [sectors have] become a White only Club, that will accept a foreign employee before an African American professional with the same qualifications, experience, certifications, and interpersonal skills. In 2010 we have seen racism, prejudice, hatred, and oppression within the Information Technology, Social Media Marketing and Cloud Computing sectors on an all time rise. As we approach 2011, things are not looking much better. Let's take a closer look at the situation. There are many African Americans with IT Certifications, College and University degrees in Computer Science and Management Information Technology (MIS), however, they are not being hired into IT firms. Many companies say that there are not enough African Americans that pursue degrees and obtain certifications in the Information Technology Sector. This is just not the case. Many companies seek any reason they can not to hire African Americans into their companies, which is [worse] for African American men. In addition, many IT companies don't want African Americans to come into the sector out of pure fear, prejudice and hatred. The Information Technology sector is, more often than not, seen as a European American only 'club', indeed the IT sector became the 19th and 21st centuries breeding ground for racism, prejudice and oppression.

Now, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that Socialforce's assessment is a little over the top. As I've written in the past, the disproportionately small percentage of African Americans in IT is detrimental to the profession, as is the racism that undeniably exists, however subtly or aberrantly, within it. But I have to wonder how constructive Socialforce's post is, given that it's really nothing more than a blanket accusation with no substantive information to support its extreme contention. If we want African-American kids to consider IT as a career so we can do something about the disproportion that exists, is this post more likely to help or hurt that effort?


So I was especially heartened when I subsequently came across an article in the Winter 2010/Spring 2011 issue of "Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology." The article, headlined "The Job Market Is Improving for African Americans in IT," quoted Wayne Hicks, executive director of the BDPA Education and Technology Foundation:

The beauty of the IT industry as we move further into the twenty-first century is that it truly rewards those with skills, talent and creativity. There are objective criteria for being strong in the mathematics and logical thinking that permeates most careers in the IT industry. As such, I think that this industry is wide open for college graduates of African descent.

The article went on to profile African Americans who are enjoying successful IT careers at Citi, BNY Mellon, IBM, Ford, New York Life, Wal-Mart, Los Alamos National Lab, WellPoint, CVS Caremark and GE Healthcare. I wonder how many African American kids who are interested in pursuing a career in IT read that and were not only heartened, but exhilarated.


I'm not saying we need to sugarcoat anything. Like any discussion, this one should be open, candid and free of falsehood, including false promises. But negativism taken to an extreme, or to exaggeration, is counterproductive. Let's encourage our kids to excel in IT, not to excoriate it.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jan 4, 2011 5:43 PM Kai Dupe Kai Dupe  says:

I agree.  Although I agree that racism does exist and I have experienced it personally, I do not agree that this is the reason that there are so few African Americans pursuing careers in IT.  I have been very successful in IT since 1986 as a software developer and I have met only 3 African American males during that time.  We definitely have a pipeline issue.  I agree that the comments referenced are over the top and worse do not appear to be evidence -based.


Jan 4, 2011 5:50 PM Milt Haynes Milt Haynes  says:

Hi Don,

You're right on point as usual!  I'm one of those successful African Americans in IT, and I must say, it's a fun filled life long learning experience! And thanks for sharing a new word for me "excoriate". As a kid I used to read the dictionary for fun, but I actually had to look this one up!


Jan 9, 2011 12:10 PM Thaddeus Howze Thaddeus Howze  says:

And I am going to have to take a third position on this and say there is more to this discussion than meets the eye.I have also worked in this industry since 1984 doing a variety of occupations over the years.I have noticed that even in the Bay Area, the Mecca of technology, there are few companies that have more than one Person of Color be that black or otherwise on their very white IT staff list.Larger firms can boast a few exceptions, i.e.Hewlett Packard.In some places I have had the fortune (or misfortune) to work, they had NEVER hired a person of color before I was hired there.I find it difficult to believe that there had NEVER been a person of color qualified to work there before I showed up.I have certainly had the experience of being the only person of color to have worked in technological environments with dozens of IT employees.

So, is there a problem?Yes.Is it a problem of access?Yes.Is it a problem of training and desire to entire the profession?Yes.Is there a problem of racial exclusivity?Yes.Has there been a lack of desire to correct this problem on the part of larger organizations who have the power to study and correct this social imbalance at the educational level?Yes.Will this continue unabated until the perfect storm of socio-political reforms, educational reforms, cultural and social forces push for this to change?Yes.

So let's not paint this out as an issue of people of color not wanting those jobs and not applying for them, because that is not true.They want those jobs and have the skill to get them.Let's consider the idea that SocialForce's perspective is certainly true to him and likely he is not alone in that perspective.We know, whether we care to admit it, that he is not.

Even for those black veterans of the industry who have been fortunate enough to work for decades in IT, they might only be willing to admit behind closed doors they have experienced terrible racism in this career because they are required by culture to admit to nothing but good treatment, lest they find themselves unable to find good work in the future.So, asking those who are working in the industry whether they are being treated fairly is a form of self-selection potentially damning themselves to unemployment in the future.

What has always amazed me is that this dominant culture will repeatedly say there is no discrimination now and blacks are afforded the same opportunities as whites.But anyone who has listened to the unemployment numbers, especially right now, can attest to the statistical average that twice as many black young men are unemployed as whites, even when their educational backgrounds are the same.It was proven in a study that a black man with a degree has the same chances of being hired as a white man who has a criminal record.(and in case you did not know, a black man with a criminal record is almost unemployable in this society, hence the recidivism rates amongst that population.)

I say there are homo-social protocols (the idea that a workplace hires people like itself with similar backgrounds, belief systems, and racial archetypes) that will promote environments where everyone looks the same, went to the same types of schools with the same types of friends, social activities and lifestyles to create a false sense of harmony in those environments.I say false because it excludes the true nature of the world today which is multi-racial and multi-cultural and that will NOT be changing ever again. Reply

Jan 9, 2011 12:10 PM Thaddeus Howze Thaddeus Howze  says:
So the idea of isolating certain aspects of the culture to exclude those that do not fit into our homo-social structure is ultimately self-defeating and futile.

Science has proven that genetic diversity in nature is necessary for the overall development of an ecosystem.When too many of the same genetics are spread in nature, a single pest or pathogen can destroy the entire crop or even species because it has no genetic resistance through diversity to protect it.Extinction can be the result if the pathogen is dangerous enough.

This has also been studied and proven within the business environment that diversity of culture and gender promotes new ways of thinking because of the differences in lifestyles, viewpoints, and experiences.If we wonder why we keep making the same mistakes in technology or for that matter in any business endeavor, all we have to do is look at the players and notice they are not changing.The players who have embraced cultural diversity are slowly pulling ahead of the pack.The answer to that is simple.The world is diverse.If you continue to attempt to assume that only your way of life has the answers, you are liable to continue missing the target as it continues to pull away due to the forces of worldwide competition for resources and wealth.

Until this nation stops squandering its most precious of resources, the human mind and the human potential, which has nothing to do with its color, or shade or religion or creeds, until it starts living up to its supposed ideals that we are all created equal, we will continue to fall behind as the minds of young people of color who may be different than the dominant sub-culture running the show, but whose experiences may be exactly what is needed to understand the future of the world.Each of those minds has the same potential as Einstein if given the opportunity to grow.

You can pretend all you want that those minds in the heads of people of color don't matter.Keep saying those minds are not able to contribute to America the same way that yours do.If that helps you sleep at night.Remember this:those minds are also in the people of color who are in those nations who we are now competing with;China with her one billion souls and India with over eight hundred million.They are all people of color and they are able to and willing to compete with the United States at a scale never before considered and whose profits may ultimately exceed anything ever done in the history of the world.And the funniest part of that is America is enabling them by sending work there, and hiring their workers here under H-1B visas.

There are three hundred million of us in the United States.My advice:recruit anyone who can bring a mind to the battle and see that they are armed as best we can, the stakes are no less than the fate of the United States and her place in the world economy.

Thaddeus Howze


Blogging at:A Matter of Scale

Jan 10, 2011 8:51 PM Ronin Vladiamhe Ronin Vladiamhe  says: in response to Thaddeus Howze

I tend to lean toward the well-thought position of THowze. I think it's far too easy for someone 'well-established' in the IT community, regardless of that person's color, to admit the disparity when it comes to the race or gender makeup of IT professionals. Though Socialforce's blog, and its tone, seems to be one of frustration, there is some validity to it. I have a colleague living in the Cincinnati area, who has been looking for a position for 14+ months. On a few occasions, after interviewing for IT positions, he was surprised to find out that a few of his interviewers were 'surprised' when he (African-American) appeared for the interview. That, in and of itself, makes it clear (for him) that most employers do not feel that the IT profession is one African-Americans are interested in, and may shy away from hiring. It is rare to find an African-American IT professional in a SMB, unless it is minority-owed. The bigger companies can have a melting pot of employees, due mainly to their size. Though the number of non-white IT employees in these larger companies should not be overlooked when you talk about the numbers, they tend to skew the numbers. If SMBs are the backbone that will bring this country back financially, only a few non-white IT professional will be part of that resurgence.

Feb 14, 2011 11:31 AM Xavier Harris Xavier Harris  says: in response to Thaddeus Howze

Not only do I agree with Mr. Howze, but he has articulated the essence of the matter in such a way that I have nothing to add. Mr. Howze, your comment post is very much appreciated and necessary within contemporary forums of scholarly and African American youth discussions.

Very Respectfully,


Dec 9, 2013 3:27 PM Kay Kay  says:
I have the intelligence to go into IT and i'm considering it..BUT what's the point if I can't get hired! Reply
Jan 26, 2014 7:17 PM PDH PDH  says:
I believe that something needs to be done regarding the discrimination towards black women and men in the IT industry. I have a MS in Information system from DePaul University. I'm applying for Web Development positions which is a very hot field right now. I get the bites from my resume, I have a portfolio with samples of my work as well. I have the experience as well as the skills. Still they won't give me the job. Last year I had an interview with a CFO for a health company who promised to bring me in to meet the group and give a me a demo of the application I would be working on. I did the thank you letter follow up phone call which he again gave me his word to bring me in and still never heard anything else from him, what does that tell you. On the face to face interviews I walked into a room where the eyes popped and mouths fell open because they didn't expect me to be black. When I walk into a company and I don't see any black people in IT I know my chances of getting the job is 0. I'm very hurt by the way I'm being treated. Therefore less minorities are going into the sciences and something needs to be done. Sincerely, Pam Reply
Jul 28, 2014 10:05 AM Chris Chris  says: in response to Kai Dupe
The comments are not over the top. I agree with the article. I am an African American male, and have certifications and masters degree in computer science. I have been to plenty of interviews but once they find out I am black ofcourse I am not invited to a second interview. Reply
Jul 28, 2014 10:07 AM Chris Chris  says: in response to Kai Dupe
I agree with the article. I am black with a masters degree in computer science. 70% of employees at IT companies are white males and the rest are foreigners. Its so obvious there is racism in IT. Reply
Aug 21, 2014 8:49 PM Nick Nick  says: in response to Kai Dupe
Kai, I respectfully have to disagree with your perception and further your lack of evidentiary collateral that you criticize the quote cited in the argument for not having or detailing. I have been in the IT industry for over 33 years and I am an African American male and there are root causes that are solidly instantiated in racism within the US and in the very fabric of African American life realities which you may not have been privy to. For instance, what you refer to as a "pipeline" issue really translates into a lack of investement, resources, access, awareness, incentive and all other things positive that should be happening within the AA community to foster engagement and participation. Now can you please tell me where and how you think these things are going to get addressed from a population that has a disproportionately higher unemployment, people living at or below the povertly level, lower incomes, and a nearly dysfunctional education system? Reply
Mar 3, 2015 6:42 PM ScottMcGregor ScottMcGregor  says:
The article was well-written and reflects the AUTHOR'S experiences, which happen to mirror MANY others of us in this field. I have been in IT (Sales and Marketing) for over 23 years and I can tell you that one of the problems is that once you hire a specific demographic (white male) they will refer who they know (white males) I was recently appointed by my company (a Fortune 100 Technology company) to BUILD a pipeline of African Americans for sales and sales engineering roles. Our goal is to have 30% of our Early-in-College programs participants reflect AA diversity. While this is a SMALL drop in the bucket; I believe there are others like me, trying to do what we can to open more opportunity for AA professionals in this area. I feel like THIS is what I am supposed to be doing at this stage of my life; helping those are are interested to gain a career in an area that has helped me so much over the years. Reply

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