5 Black tech leaders making a difference

From HBCU outreach to strategic seed fund investing, these five luminaries are leading the way toward a more diverse, inclusive Silicon Valley.

By Leigh-Ann Jackson — November 10, 2020

The tech industry has long been a beacon for change agents. But the disruptors, the innovators, and the inventors most lauded for their work are a reflection of the racial biases of our broader culture — that is, they are white, and usually men. 

In 2018 the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found Just 3.5% of engineers and other professionals in computer and electronics manufacturing are Black, and just 1.7% of tech executives are Black men and women, as compared to the 77% who were white men and women. And it’s not just the workers, but startups and founders receiving funding from banks and venture capital firms. Black investors make up less than 1% of venture capitalists, and only 1% of startup founders who receive venture funding are Black.

While HP and other companies have made very public commitments to act, there are Black leaders in tech doing pioneering work and leading the way. Here are just a few men and women who’ve inspired us. 

Christophe D. Mosbyassociate general counsel and VP, HP

Now the chair of HP’s Global Legal Affairs Diversity and Inclusion Program and liaison to the Minority Corporate Counsel Association and the California Minority Counsel Program, Mosby entered the legal field to “help people solve problems and address wrongs.” He also sits on the board of Street Law, Inc., a nonprofit whose mission is to educate people about how law and government work.

Mosby helped HP commit to the Mansfield Rule, which measures whether legal departments have affirmatively considered a diverse field of applicants for top roles and for outside counsel representation. He has also spoken with dozens of other companies about how to implement successful diversity and inclusion programs, creating a “tool kit” to help them avoid pitfalls.

“Racism, sexism, and all other forms of discrimination are powerful institutions, but I am hopeful that people are starting to better recognize our shared humanity and interconnectivity.”

Arlan Hamiltonfounder and managing partner, Backstage Capital

Before stepping into the venture capital sphere, Hamilton worked in live music production, managing concert tours. She invests in startups led by founders who identify as women, POC, or LGBTQ. The investment fund is dedicated to changing the way investors and founders interact by breaking down bias barriers and reminding founders of their own power. 

Having just celebrated its five-year anniversary, Backstage Capital has invested over $7 million in more than 130 companies led by underrepresented founders, says Hamilton. In her new book, It’s About Damn Time, she shares advice on “how to turn being underestimated into your greatest advantage.”

“When I started my fund, many investors didn’t believe I could make any money investing in underestimated founders. They thought — and some still think — that if you invest in a person of color, a woman, or someone LGBTQ, you must be doing charity work. We have to build that future we want to see, and the glory days are ahead of us.”

Ken ColemanChairman, EIS Group

Coleman is chairman of one of the nation’s leading software companies serving the insurance industry. He founded ITM Software, has served as chairman at Saama Technologies and Accelrys, and spent a decade at HP, where he held several management positions. 

Coleman’s trailblazing career has spanned nearly 50 years. Throughout that time, Coleman found he was often the only Black person holding a senior position. That spurred him to seek out and hire Black talent wherever he could find it. The Global Silicon Valley Hall of Famer continues his mission to this day. He and his wife, venture strategy consultant Caretha Coleman, are advisers on a forthcoming Santa Clara University training program to help Black college students become the company directors of tomorrow.

“We’ve made enormous progress. We have a lot of improvement left to do, but I’m confident that we can move the needle in a positive direction. The number of companies in search of Black directors is shockingly high. I would have never dreamed of this many opportunities. We just have to know that all opportunities are perishable.”

Fields Jackson, Jr.executive director, HBCU Business Deans Roundtable

Jackson heads up a think tank dedicated to enhancing business and management programs at HBCUs. The Roundtable’s goal is to boost networking opportunities between often-overlooked HBCU business school leaders and C-suites. 

One of Jackson’s earliest forays into D&I came in the late ’90s, when he — along with business partners NBA great Julius “Dr. J” Erving and former NFL running back Joe Washington — formed the second minority-owned NASCAR team in the racing association’s history. The experience would later inspire the  creation of Racing Toward Diversity magazine, which showcases top corporate diversity initiatives.

“The companies that have it figured out know that we’re  working in a global environment and they need to find the best and brightest from those environments. They need to have their companies look like society [and] look like who they’re marketing to. They’ve got diverse boards of directors, diversity initiatives, and they hold people accountable.”

Stacy Brown-Philpot, adviser, Softbank

Until September 2020, Brown-Philpot was CEO of the freelance labor marketplace TaskRabbit, where she was one  of Silicon Valley’s few Black female chief executives. She has also worked at Goldman Sachs and held directorial roles at Google, and she currently sits on the boards of Nordstrom, Black Girls Code, and HP. 

Along with two other Black leaders in tech, Brown-Philpot oversees SoftBank’s $100 million Opportunity Growth Fund. This new initiative will invest solely in companies led by founders of color. The goal is to foster diversity in venture capital and startups.

“After spending my career at large tech companies and investment banks, it became clear to me that investing in founders of color was a crucial step to improving diversity across the industry. When you fund entrepreneurs to realize their vision, they can bring everyone in their experience along with them.”


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