Leadership Series with Damilola Erinle

Mar 10, 2022

Being a black woman in tech


Damilola asserts that being a black woman in tech is a combination of both feeling valued but also lonely. She says that growing up as a black person in a predominantly white country means that you internalise a lot of prejudice. 


For instance, her mum would tell her: “There are some people that many people will think your brain is as black as your skin, so you have to focus and prove everyone wrong.”


Damilola interestingly went to an all boys boarding school, played rugby and studied Genetic engineering at University so she knows how it feels to be a minority. 


“When I joined Salesforce I was the only young black Vice President globally and I didn’t notice this difference until a colleague asked me how it felt to be the only black woman in a meeting room.”


After hearing this comment, she realised she had ignored these aspects in order to trudge forth and be a leader but had forgotten to look around and acknowledge her work environment. People started to alert her to things which had happened to her which were not standard or consistent and were based on fear and prejudice.


Damilola found it a challenge to develop as a leader knowing the intention of people’s feedback or advice. At times it was hard to find someone who understood and could develop her in the right way.


Advice to other isolated black women


Primarily, try and find people of your colour. “When you think it’s just you then you think it’s a subjective problem, but as soon as you realise it’s a collective problem then you can feel stronger and start to ask the right questions.”


She wrote a LinkedIn article after George Floyd’s death on which there was an open shout to share stories about racism at work etc. She was shocked to find that many of her work colleagues had been through similar racist incidents. 


The UK is less vocal about these racial issues and so sometimes it can be subtle and go undetected. She advocates for everyone to share their personal story with racism so that more people can open up about it. Confidence in numbers really helps as it makes you feel less alone in the problems you face. 


How can we support people of colour in tech?


Try to have an open conversation with the people of colour at your organisation. Ask the questions. Self reflect. Is there any way you actively support? Ask yourself how you can be an advocate for diversity and inclusion.


Advice to organisations to support black women in tech


Look at who is around you and if there is a lack of ethnic diversity then address your hiring practices. Are you hiring from a selective pool of candidates? Is there room for a grassroots level approach? 


Organisations need to create some programs to attract black talent.

What industry sectors do black women go to?


For everybody, cultural fit with a company is so important and so many balck women just don’t see a fit with tech companies which are predominantly white male dominated. 


IT wouldn’t have been a standard profession for Damilola but she fell into technology by accident and so expresses that the tech field has to appeal to the black female community.


Just 3% of the tech workforce are black women. The tech industry needs to give off the perception that it is a diverse field. The industry has a lot to do for people to feel inclusive and a sense of belonging.