Black tech workers hit by financial and emotional impact during COVID-19 pandemic

Lekan Olawoye, founder and CEO of the Black Professionals in Tech Network. BPTN

Black tech professionals are suffering both financial and emotional blows during the pandemic that are impacting their work, with almost 65 per cent reporting their employment or work life have been impacted by COVID-19, approximately 48 per cent of whom have also experienced a financial impact. 

The findings come from a pandemic and anti-racism task force created in May by the Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN) to gather data on how Black workers are faring and to produce a plan for companies to support them. Co-chaired by executives from Salesforce, Tableau and TD Bank, the task force includes 25 professionals from firms including CIBC, Accenture, LinkedIn and Shopify.

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Talking Point

The Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN) created a task force in May after fielding increasing questions from companies asking for advice on how to “intentionally and tangibly” support their Black employees. On Tuesday, the group launched a self-assessment tool for companies to assess what they’re doing, or not doing, to support their Black employees.

Founded in 2017, BPTN is a network of over 10,000 young professionals who work in tech across Canada and the U.S. Olawoye said the group assembled its task force after fielding increasing questions from companies asking for advice on how to “intentionally and tangibly” support their Black employees amid a pandemic and a racial reckoning after the police killing of George Floyd. 

Among the findings from the survey of the BPTN network, more than one in five Black tech professionals know of someone impacted directly by COVID-19. Lekan Olawoye, BPTN’s founder and CEO, said the results are in line with the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 noted by the country’s chief medical officers: Toronto’s chief medical officer, for instance, found that Black people accounted for 21 per cent of reported cases in the city, while making up just nine per cent of the population. 

“Black communities are tight-knit and connected and multigenerational,” said Olawoye. “Our family members are more likely to be on the front lines. [COVID-19] is coming home to us.” 

Colleen Ward, vice-president of technology solutions at TD and a member of BPTN’s task force, said she saw herself in the results of the survey. “I had to stop myself from reading the data because it put me in a dark place,” said Ward, who herself has lost many relatives to COVID-19, including a grandfather. 

“I wanted to help leaders recognize there are members of their team that are going through hardships that they aren’t familiar with or even aware with,” she told The Logic. “Black employees don’t have organic connections with their leaders. We don’t have a network.”  

To address this, BPTN launched an accountability tool Tuesday to help companies “‘lighten the burden’” of COVID-19 from Black tech workers, and to spur more meaningful outreach, mentoring and anti-racism training. 

The Table of Elements For a Post-Pandemic Recovery and Elimination of Anti-Black Racism in Tech is a self-assessment tool for companies to assess what they’re doing, or not doing, to support their Black employees. The table provides 19 suggested best practices, and includes a tool for companies to indicate they need help in certain areas. The idea, Olawoye said, is “to make it really clear to companies … what they need to fix in their ecosystem” and be accountable to themselves, as opposed to saying, “‘We’re not sure how we should move forward.’”

According to Ward, her employer satisfies 12 out of the 19 elements of the table “in various levels of intensity.” What’s changed, she noted, is that she is now talking to more white people at TD about the issue. “The scales have tipped,” Ward said. “People … aren’t just offering lip service. They want to do it right and invest well and invest in the community.”

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Next year, BPTN will also launch a platform that creates a space for networking, mentoring, event planning and jobs for Black tech workers and companies—a platform Olawoye called “a Reddit for Black tech.” 

“People want simple, but we’re very clear: this is not simple,” Olawoye said. “We need to walk this journey…. Right now, companies cannot continue on the same path.”