Connected Nation

Breaking barriers: Black tech leaders' vision for digital equity

February 21, 2024 Jessica Denson Season 5 Episode 6
Connected Nation
Breaking barriers: Black tech leaders' vision for digital equity
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On today's episode we celebrate and mark Black History Month by exploring issues important to African Americans relating to broadband, technology, and the Digital Divide.

We welcome guests that are leaders in a variety of areas in tech for a round table discussion on everything from the misuse of the term “diversity” to the future of Black tech in America.
Recommended Links:
Sabrina Morton:
Sabrina's LinkedIn
Sabrina's Company

Doug McCullough:
Doug's LinkedIn
Color Coded Labs
Black Tech Columbus

Heather Gate:
Heather's LinkedIn
Connected Nation’s Heather Gate earns spot in Women We Admire’s Top 50 Women Leaders of Kentucky for 2023

Dr. Fallon Wilson
Fallon's LinkedIn
Brookings article
Code for America article

Jessica Denson (00:05):

This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods. On today's podcast, we are taking time to celebrate and Mark Black History month by exploring issues important to African-Americans relating to broadband technology and the digital divide. To do so, we've convened a group of four black leaders within different areas of tech for a round table discussion on everything from the misuse of the term diversity to the future of Black Tech in America. I'm Jessica Denson and this is Connected Nation. I'm Jessica Denson and today we're approaching our conversation a little differently in honor of Black History Month. I have a round table of guests today and they include Dr. Fallon Wilson, who is the co-founder of Black Tech Futures Research Institute and Vice President of Tech Policy at the Multicultural Telecom Internet Council. Welcome, Dr. Wilson. Dr. Fallon Wilson (01:07):

Nice to be here. So excited to have a succession with so many great colleagues. Jessica Denson (01:13):

And just to let our listeners know you are out and about, correct? You are out in the field right now, Dr. Fallon Wilson (01:19):

The Department of Commerce at this moment. So yeah, I am in the field of resources, hopefully for communities of color when it comes to digital equity. Jessica Denson (01:30):

Awesome. Also with us, Sabrina Morton, who is the director and division chief engineer at L three Harris Technologies and has worked on some of the most advanced and classified programs in the us, which for obvious reasons we shall not name. Hello Sabrina. Sabrina Morton (01:46):

Good afternoon, Jessica. I'm glad to be here today to talk tech, all things tech and really inspire those, especially at Black History month of value why we need to be at the table too. Jessica Denson (01:59):

Yes, and thank you for joining us. I know you're not feeling well today, so we appreciate that you are still here and we wish you to get well quickly. Sabrina Morton (02:08):

Thank you. Jessica Denson (02:10):

Also, we have Doug McCullough, who is the CEO of Color-Coded Labs and is the chief information Officer for the city of Dublin, Ohio. He also co-founded Black Tech Columbus. Welcome, Doug. Doug McCullough (02:23):

Hey everybody, good to be here. Happy Black History Month. I'm also eager to join with my colleagues in this important conversation. So hi everyone. Jessica Denson (02:33):

You may recognize Doug's voice. He's one of our first guests. This is actually our fifth year on Connected Nation podcast. And Doug, you were one of our inaugural guests in our early first season, so glad to have you back. And also we have Heather Gate who is the vice President of Digital Inclusion for Connected Nation, and she just wrapped a term as the chairperson of the Communications Equity and Diversity Council, which is an advisory committee to the FCC. Welcome Heather. Heather Gate (03:01):

Hi Jessica. Thank you for having me. Very excited to join this tremendous and wonderful people for this discussion on this black History month. Jessica Denson (03:12):

Yes, I'm very excited for our discussion today as well. I want to let our audience know that our topics and discussion were shaped by our round table here. We met in advance to discuss what they felt was best to talk about as black leaders in tech. So this conversation and whether we've set up a few targeted questions or what comes of it is really going to be shaped by my four guests today rather than myself. Much of our conversation is about understanding one another better and finding ways to bring more black professionals into tech. So without further ado, let's get going. First off, what drew each of you to work in your various roles within technology? Let's begin with you, Sabrina. You started working tech later than is traditional, correct? Sabrina Morton (04:03):

Exactly. I was definitely a late technical bloomer. I spent about 10 years in the food service and public service industry, which is fine because I got a chance to learn a lot about cost schedule, people dealing with customers. No matter what industry you're in, those things are going to be foundation, but it just didn't prove to be the opportune or the career field that would allow me to really thrive and have the flexibility with home. So I decided, hey, let me look at the software engineering side of things, software programming, and that's what drove my desire to go back to school and get my degree in computer science. Jessica Denson (04:44):

And you've really done some really cool things with that since. Right? What explain to people who don't know what L three Harris is, what the company does? Sabrina Morton (04:53):

Alrighty. Well, L three Harris has a full array of products and services. I personally work under tactical missions and microelectronics division of our space and airborne systems. We have a portfolio of products that range from communications, signal intelligence, electronic warfare, microelectronics, and a lot of offensive cyber technology. So those things that make our law enforcement, our military personnel, give them the tools that they need to be able to keep protected and bring them back home. Jessica Denson (05:27):

All right. Exciting stuff. Some of that's top secret. Dr. Wilson, let's chat. Throw it to you for a moment. Your work is centered on equal access and representation in tech, media and telecommunications. That's the summary. But give us a little bit of a deeper dive into what you do. Dr. Fallon Wilson (05:46):

I like to think at the Multicultural Media Telecom Internet Council where I'm the vice president of tech policy, is that we build digital futures for communities of color and we do it through broadband access. We do it through broadcasting an equitable alignment there. We do it through innovation and ai, specifically looking at how we can empower and make sure that the playing field is leveled for black people, black and brown people to have future in this country. Specifically, I work with African-American churches across the country to educate them about digital equity. The reason why we work with African-American churches is because we believe that they are the cornerstone for a movement for digital justice in this country. If we think about how democratic our institutions operate, it's because of African-American church leaders doing the civil rights movement, organizing for liberation and for freedom. And so the next step is how do we organize and liberate as it relates to having equitable AI futures, which is fueled by digital equity. There is no AI future without digital equity. Let me just say, keep saying that. And there's no digital equity without racial equity. And so I spend my time working a lot with historic institutions like African American churches and HBCUs on how do we really create a future that is truly inclusive and created by us. Jessica Denson (07:17):

And we've spoken before as well. And you've talked about how this is really a civil rights issue, the idea of digital equity, correct? Dr. Fallon Wilson (07:26):

It really is. I am here at a Department of Commerce conversation high level simply to say that we're talking about chips and ai, so hardware and software, but yet almost 29% of black people in this country don't have internet access. So helping understand how do you have such critical life-changing billion dollar investments of our tax dollars to build a future and a new manufacturing future and a new economic digital economy. But yet black people don't have the beginning of the foundation of this work. And so it is a civil issue, it's an equity issue and it's an economic disparity issue. Jessica Denson (08:07):

And Doug, let's turn to you now. You've done a lot of work in both the public and private sectors of tech. What led you to do that and can you expand upon those different areas that you've worked in? Doug McCullough (08:21):

Sure, and I'll say that I did come to technology later in my life like Sabrina did. It's not my first career and I went for the private sector at first. And a lot of our technology training in this country leads us to believe that getting a good corporate job is the gold standard of just sort of a good career. I didn't necessarily thrive there and I found some of the problems that a lot of people find. I didn't analyze it at the time as representing some struggles or some barriers for myself, but through networking, I had someone recommend to me that I look into a public sector job. It was with the state of Ohio, and I kind of fell in love with state service and public service or working in the public sector. So I've worked in both. But working with the state at the state, I found that there were some aspects of that kind of work that fit well with a person like me.
It's very stable, it's very rules-based. It can be merit-based, and there are some opportunities to thrive. And I rose at the state in becoming a CIO. My particular aspect of technology is project management, working with people. And I really do encourage people who I'm trying to convince to come into technology, especially black and brown people who don't feel like air quotes here, technical or that's kind of not my thing. Being able to be creative, do problem solving, working with people, communicate. Those are the core technical skills today. And I really want to encourage black and brown people, African-American people to take another look at their skillset. I have found that, and I try and use my example in my career to show people that there's a wide array of skill sets and creative possibilities that make you thrive in the technology industry. And the technology industry is not just Silicon Valley, it's also city government, state government, federal government, nonprofits. There's so many possibilities. Jessica Denson (10:32):

And you've done some work to bring some youth into this idea too as well, right? Doug McCullough (10:38):

Yes. Well really the entire community and everybody, but I do speak to young people a lot and try and reinforce how and why people might want to go towards technology. I'm sure the others on this panel will agree, but I'm a believer that everyone should be moving towards technology. No matter what your career field is, you're going to have to learn how to use AI and devices and you should at least understand how software works and really understand the internet. And you may not think of it as a tech job, but there's a real merger going on that all jobs are tech jobs and tech jobs are in every industry. So helping younger people understand that there's no avoidance of this and you shouldn't be intimidated by it. It's a part of our lives and everybody really needs to get with the program. Jessica Denson (11:29):

Yeah, I think this panel is actually a really good example of the different areas. And Heather, I would like to give you a moment too to talk about technology and what drew you to tech and digital inclusion specifically Heather Gate (11:45):

When it comes to tech. I literally got into tech because somebody told me I couldn't. My as a freshman in college looked at me and told me to take easier classes because I had made some choices to take some science classes. I immediately started looking around and I realized there were no women that looked like me, more so black women in tech. So I immediately switched my degree from economics to computer science, and the rest is history. I Jessica Denson (12:22):

Love that. That's wonderful. But I love that. That's wonderful. But for a lot of people, they might not have that response. So it's so important that people hear what you're doing in your story, don't you think? Heather Gate (12:35):

Yes, it's good. I tell that story because it's important. And one thing that I've dedicated my life to is making sure that another black girl doesn't has to deal with that kind of thing. I want them to have a smoother pathway. So that really is what motivated me to move to digital inclusion. And so what happened after doing my undergraduate degree in computer science and going back and doing my master's in computer science, I had an existential crisis before graduation because I realized I don't want to be an engineer like Sabrina, and I don't want to be a programmer either. And so trying to figure out what my future would be, I realized that I did want to be part of a solution that really brings about inclusivity and equity when it comes to the tech sector. And so that is how I was introduced to a small nonprofit called Connect Kentucky back then. That was really starting to have a conversation about the importance of broadband for advancing economic opportunity and community changing and transforming communities. And that is how my life fell into place in that I figured that I could leverage what I learned in tech and use that to motivate and be part of the solution that brings up other little girls that were like me and told they couldn't do it, so that they can be part of this digital tech world. Jessica Denson (14:11):

And I have been witness to you inspiring others, so you do a wonderful job. This can sometimes be a very exciting time for tech and the internet from AI to internet innovations. And Fallon, you brought up the AI idea that that's important to have. So I'd like you to kick off this part of the discussion. What are you most excited about right now? And I'd love everybody to answer that. Let's start with you, Fallon. Dr. Fallon Wilson (14:40):

I'm so sorry if I gave the illusion that I'm excited about AI because in of the camp of I am not as about it, I am not obsessed with it. I do not think it's the magic pill to fix all things. I think that there are a lot of other challenges within our tech equity and tech racial equity space that need to be a part of that conversation that is not being had. So let me just preference my comment because of that. Jessica Denson (15:12):

Fair enough, fair enough. Dr. Fallon Wilson (15:13):

Yeah, I would simply say I think we are missing the point of ai. I think we're missing the point, especially if we're thinking about black and brown communities. Once again, we all know the data when it comes to even the critical investment that our government and the Biden administration has made into broadband infrastructure in this country. It is still in process, right? We're heading a point where now we're going to be talking about competitive grants for community organizations to do this work, but yet one of the things we realize even with some of the work we were doing is that government is great, but sometimes the bureaucracy gets in the way of great impactful work. And so as foundations are galvanizing themselves to work with the National Science Foundation and other agencies on the CHIPS Act to help support critical public investments, I feel like those same critical public investments should be also on the broadband side as well, supporting the growth and the foundation for an AI feature. So we're going to talk, so I'll be excited about AI when we talk about it with digital equity, and we just don't Jessica Denson (16:25):

Anybody want to jump in on that? Yeah, go ahead, Heather. Yeah. Sabrina Morton (16:31):

Yeah. I personally feel like AI has the potential to revolutionize nearly every aspect of our living from healthcare, transportation, entertainment, and beyond. I've used AI before and I've found it to be able to help in a lot of cases with really streamlining processes and making it more efficient and assisting you with creating new forms of ways of doing things. So sometimes it's just that sanity check that I use using the AI tools just to make sure, and it comes back quicker from just the way the AI tool process sets work. So I find advantages in ai. Dr. Fallon Wilson (17:16):

Can I just say something to that? I'm sorry. I love ai. I think it's a beautiful, innovative space that our world is entering in, but once again, for communities of color, for tribal communities, for communities historically disinvested in, there will be a privilege few of us who will be able to be able to understand how it works, allow it to lift us up in various types of ways. But the majority of people who don't have computers or who don't have internet, how do you expect them to co-create and live in such a world? I'm sorry. I am the cynic on this, and I probably should stop talking and let other people talk, but I am. Yeah, I'm going to stop. Jessica Denson (18:01):

No, I think it's point to have all points of view. It's important. Heather or Sabrina, did you wanted to add something to that? I think I interrupted one of you. Heather Gate (18:11):

I do. This is Heather. So the AI ship has sailed, right? It is here and it's not going back. The genie is not going back in the bottle. And so for us, it's digital equity activists is our responsibility to figure out how we address it, how it's addressed, because from my perspective, AI could be the next digital divide, right? Because the thing is we have to make sure that in implementing these new technologies, the issues of inclusivity and equity are considered. Because if you look at the way that AI works, it's basically crowdsourcing information that's available on the internet, good or bad information. And if there's a segment of the community that's not participating in that online community, then their opinions and their experiences and their needs are not being pulled by those ai. And if the loudest voices in the room are the ones that are biased, that information is what the AI is basically generating from.
So there's always risks that come with a segment of a population missing in the conversation of ai. So getting that point across. The second thing I do want to say, my biggest concern for us who are in the front lines of digital skills training is making sure that we're equipping people with the skills that they need not only to use the internet, but to also use AI tools in a way that keep them competitive with everybody else. I use the example of one of our programs. We do job skills training. We teach people how to write resumes. So I have to ask myself, am I preparing this person to be competitive when I'm teaching them how to write a resume, the old school way of here's a template, generate the whole thing when they're competing against somebody who's very savvy on ai, and they can generate the perfect resume to meet that job requirement.
So I have to consider how do I as a trainer exist in that environment and how do I help prepare the people that are basically on the wrong side of the digital divide to be competitive? And so that's what I call the next digital divide. So from my perspective, AI can be a solution, an equity accelerator as long as we are strategic and intentional on how diversity in equity is addressed as AI takes over the world. On the other hand, if we fail to address it proactively, we'll come back in a few years talking about the digital divide and defining it differently than we are today. Jessica Denson (21:25):

So in essence, if we're not careful, just continue to, the digital divide can get wider and wider as technology moves forward. Doug, from your point of view, do you have some thoughts on this issue as well? Doug McCullough (21:42):

Yeah, I do. And I would never want to have any point of view not expressed, and I think that's what makes some of our work so healthy and so valuable. And so we need every point of view. I'll come at it from a different angle. I think that the digital divide is similar to other divides and other deficits and disinvestment in our communities. And when new technologies come along, it seems like innovation is advancing and it's hard enough to catch up. And so we become frustrated with that. However, I think about a food desert. If there's a new technology that boosts food production, that's not going to impact communities with food deserts as much as other communities. However, that new technology or innovation is not really at fault there. And there's a hype that comes after things, and these new technologies can be a distraction from some of the divide work and the equity work that we're trying to do, but the technology also has the potential to change the game.
And I'm always looking for transformative moments at which people in black communities can change something. And we've had that promise before. I think about years and years ago when the internet was a promise or a hype and we had Khan Academy, and it was going to be something that people could get in and learn things without necessarily having the same investment in their school systems. It's going to democratize things that didn't necessarily happen. But it is a moment for, and I think about this for artificial intelligence, for some change, for someone to take advantage of it, for a new company to start up for a few people to slip in and use AI to get good jobs or good opportunities here or there, or do some investment or save some money because of the digital equity work that we may do. So just another perspective there in saying all of these divides and inequity exist in all spheres, health, mental health, wealth building, transportation systems. When a new technology comes along, yes, it's not going to benefit everybody the same because of the inequity, but it does represent an opportunity for some of us who are opportunistic to say, well, what could we do with this tool that might advance us a little bit more. Jessica Denson (24:14):

Okay, we have so much to talk about today. You all, I love your point of views and I agree with Doug and what everybody's saying that it's important to have these different perspectives. It is good to have this good dialogue. So let's talk about addressing diversity inclusion in the tech sector and the importance of representation, what the current landscape is and why it matters that there's representation for this part of the discussion. Let's have, Sabrina, why don't you open us up. Sabrina Morton (24:43):

No problem. This is one of my favorite parts actually, because I know seeing individuals from very diverse backgrounds in tech roles can inspire people. It inspired me, right? Because I felt like I was not part of that pact. I did not look like the typical software engineer. So seeing people that look like me helped me to understand that those that are underrepresented could be a part of that number. It sends a message that everybody, regardless of their background can make it really, so when I'm sitting at the table and I see all different age backgrounds, it tells me that the pipeline is whitening, right? So for me, the advantages of it are having the diverse teams. They bring different perspectives, different experiences and ideas to the table. From what I've found, it is led my team to more innovative solutions and products.
That lack of representation a lot of times can hinder creativity. It'll limit the range of problems that are being addressed because everybody's in that group think everybody's in that one mindset. So you don't have that diverse population when you don't have diversity at the table. With that representation, I think the teams are better equipped to understand and address the needs, not just of the typical user, but the broader range of users of whatever the product is. So it really can help advance some of the development and inclusive thinking of what products are being done, but also there's an economic impact having inclusive tech sector of individuals. When I look at it, if they changed and brought more tech training centers on the west side of Chicago, that would help people in those underrepresented areas develop that economic growth by tapping into a wider range of jobs income.
And so having, I can go on and on and on about it because I see so many advantages of it, but it's to me, a better way to make people really be able to take charge of their futures. I was that late bloomer coming into Lockheed Martin, graduated from college as a, I'll put it, seasoned individual coming in with a software degree and having a team of people that welcomed me in being the only female at the table. And most of the time, the only African-American at the table has helped me to grow from moving into software systems, project engineering to be a program manager. And I've also served as the chief requirements engineer on the F 35 tech refresh program and now serving as a division chief engineer with over 600 engineers that really dotted line up to me within our intel and cyber unit. I've been told by many that in one-on-ones or even just one-offs in the cafeteria, they're like, we don't see a lot of people that look like us at those levels, but you keep it inclusive. You make sure that our voices are heard because I know what it feels like to be at the table, and I feel like my voice is a mouse, so now I make it a point to seek out those that I don't see seeing anything and make sure I ask them. What are your thoughts on this? Jessica Denson (28:29):

And Fallon, obviously digital equity matters to you. Do you want to talk about it within the tech sector and the importance of representation as well? Dr. Fallon Wilson (28:38):

I think I agree with what everything that's been said about it. Clearly we need to be more represented. In 2014, tech companies started releasing their diversity numbers. They were abysmal. They were released because Jesse Jackson Jr. Went to Silicon Valley and said, show me your diversity numbers. Show me your board first. And I guess the compromises will show our diversity numbers and we'll work to it towards improving it. But there's been little improvement. If you look over the last, what, seven or eight years now? I think I'm probably the cynic on here today. I don't know what breakfast I had this morning, but my thought is, I know y'all are laughing, but it's true. I am of the mindset that the companies are rolling back D and I, they're rolling back the types of amazing innovative retention and attrition types of opportunities that they had at the height of George Floyd.
And now post that moment, everything is going back to probably maybe even retroactively all the way back to the beginning of as if they didn't exist type of thing. And so what does that leave our black students who are graduating from institutions or from HBCUs or the minority serving institutions when it comes to trying to get into the tech field? My thought is to put more resources at HBCUs so that they can figure out how to roll their expertise in science discoveries into tech transfers and become tech entrepreneurs themselves. I feel like there's more purchase there for me than necessarily helping tech companies understand this consistently. Jessica Denson (30:27):

Doug or Heather, if one of you want to weigh in, I'm pretty sure that when we talked about this in our meeting that we touched on the fact that some of those DEI things were being ruled back, didn't we? Doug McCullough (30:38):

Yeah, we did. I'll just add, I think we might all be skeptics on this, and to your point, Fallon, that the rollback in reaction to DEI is pushing back further than we were talking about DEI back into gains that were there in the eighties and nineties. But I think it is clear that representation is critical, critical, critical. People who can't see a pathway for themselves, they just don't walk down that pathway. And we have some of the same kind of opportunities that people believe are open to them in our community. A lot of people believe if they want to go to college, they have to play a sport they're not just aware of. And then after they've played a sport successfully in college, they don't know what to do from there. Like I didn't plan past here. And so I think in addition, those of us who are representing is a heavy lift because you didn't necessarily go into that field in order to represent for others.
You went into that field for your own career, take care of yourself and your family, and then you find people walking up to you in the cafeteria saying, we need you there and you've got to represent this and everything. And it becomes a heavy lift, but an honorable one, a great one. But at the end of the day, we need to double triple quintuple 10 x. The amount of participation in these career fields and representation is not the only way of doing it, but without good representation. And I agree also at the board level, at every single level, you can't even move forward with that. So any company that's not actively working on this is actually holding us back. Dr. Fallon Wilson (32:27):

And can I say one additional thing? I will also say in addition to what was just shared, I do believe that there are other alternative tech pathways that don't lead us to tech companies and also not just tech entrepreneurship. I think the emerging investments that our country is making into digital equity or into AI or whatever the key technology focus areas for our country are presents the opportunity for our students who are mainly at least African American students who are first generation students. They major in low earning, but socially impactful majors, right? They're in the human services, they're in the social sciences, they're in the humanities. And I think that those disciplines now intersecting with both maybe conversations around AI and ethics presents new alternative tech pathways into government for black and brown students. But I don't think we are yet there thinking about this as much as we should. But the truth of the matter is the numbers are in favor of the social sciences and the humanities because we don't fund public education so that students can choose computer science or other STEM related fields when they do matriculate into college or into post-secondary school. Well, I think there's an opportunity to have a different type of conversation, not just about tech companies, not just about tech entrepreneurship, but about public interest technology careers that are emerging left and right as technology continues to terraform our communities and our civic nation. Jessica Denson (34:01):

Heather, do you want to add any thoughts to this topic as well? Heather Gate (34:06):

Yeah, I agree with both sides. I agree with Sabrina. In terms of the companies that are doing it right that are getting it right and by getting it right, I'm talking about addressing diversity and inclusivity in a serious manner, really being intentional about their strategies because the data, as Sabrina mentioned, does show that companies with racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to make more money. It does show that their staff are more likely to be happy and satisfied because obviously if you're working in an environment where macro aggressions understood and addressed, then you are more productive and you're more positive and they have lower turnover. And also companies with a diverse management team tend to be more innovative. But sadly, to Fallon's point, sadly, when we look at it from a national perspective, we are way behind. We have not done enough. And what's happened instead is a lot of entities invested in these diversity offices that are therefore really for being honest for appearances, right?
There's a diversity officer that shows up at all the conferences and speaks the speak that talks the talk, but has no decision-making power, has no ability to really move the needle, but sort of shows that the entity is dealing with it seriously. But we know that these positions are not serious because once it comes time to chop, to do layoffs and chop, those are the first people to go. And so the big thing that, because I think we haven't mentioned it, I think we've alluded to the fact that we're going backwards was the decision by the Supreme Court on affirmative action admission policies? Well, that's having a ripple effect across different sectors, which means that corporations that had these DEI policies are suddenly becoming very sensitive and they're buying into the fact that, oh, we might be accused of, I put in quotes, reverse reverse racism.
So we know they were never really serious because if you are closing the door the moment you sense some challenges, then you were never serious to begin with because like I said, you make money if you invest in it, you have a happy workforce and you are part of the solution in tackling systemic issues that we've had. And so I think the impact of the Supreme Court decision on Harvard affirmative action is really taking us back pretty significantly. And so we have to go back to the drawing board and lean in on the ones that are doing it right and they're committed to it and maybe highlight those as a success stories and continue to tell those stories. But we've gone backwards in a way that for some of us that have been really, that saw some change and were a little skeptical that it would stick after George Floyd, I hate to say it. I was like, I hope this is not just rah rah, we're going to post things on social media. And sadly, we were proven right? I hate to say it, Jessica Denson (37:46):

Which Heather, if I may share a conversation you and I had even this week about the importance of being thoughtful in how we celebrate Black History Month and how we Mark Black History Month. And so it's not just pandering, it's an actual true discussion, which is why I'm cognizant of not adding my opinion necessarily to everything here because I feel like it should not come from a white point of view. It should be shaped from a black point of view. And that was a learning for me, and that if I did not have a diversity of a colleague of about the importance of Black History Month and how we approach it and why it matters, that was a learning for me. And to have that do that work and stuff is something that needs to happen amongst all of us. It's not just on, as Doug said, where there's a lot of pressure on those black professionals who are succeeding to be that shiny example.
All of us have a role in this. I really feel, and I think our discussion this week, Heather, on Black History Month that you and I had, I think we can be very open about it. It was good about when to use the colors and why it matters and when to use the fist. And that's about when that matters and about the importance of not just pandering. So just even in that discussion, which was a 10 minute discussion, it was such a learning for me. And so just to me, in this example of the importance of diversity and that all of us have to do this work. So Doug, just pointing to you for a moment on the, you did mention that about being an example and finding yourself an example when most of us, you're just going into your career. What's the role of mentorship when it comes to fostering success for other black professionals in tech? Why is that a critical piece? Doug McCullough (39:43):

Yeah, sure. And I just want to close out the last thing you said there also that for people who may not be part of the black community, we need to make sure that while you may step back and try not to be pandering, that you're not also not acting. And it's important to be active, to learn the history. Black history is American history and everyone should be learning it and talking about it, but the sensitivity is appreciated. But at the same time, don't say, well, I'm uncomfortable. And those things. And we did take some gains during some of the George Floyd guilt moment of the country that a lot of us did see that, Hey, this is going to fall back. And we were just being sort of cynical about it. And we did turn out to be correct. However, a lot of people did step up during that time and say, you know what? I don't really know this history. I don't even know the people who work the office with me. And conversations were had, and that's helpful. And you can't roll that back. You can change the law and the Harvard situation, but you can't change how a lot of people learned things at that time and became comfortable and they're now raising children and they're now hiring people. And so those are the kinds of opportunities that are there. And I'm sorry to get sidetracked in that, but that's the work, and it's hard from person to person. Jessica Denson (41:06):

It's important work. And I think you're right to make a point of that, to draw that line that it's not about, yes, you don't want to pander, but at the same time you don't want to forget to have the conversation or make that effort. Yes. And I would Doug McCullough (41:19):

Careful to not do things so as not to offend, and sometimes it takes the energy out of acting, and I would rather people make mistakes and embarrass themselves than not act at all out of fear, those kinds of things. Because we can correct mistakes. And I will just drop in here that I'm much more comfortable mentoring people, and I do recognize it's less of a public role in doing things. I've benefited from having great mentors, and I recognize that I need to spend time with people. I mentor just about almost anyone who asks me for some time and ask me, how did you do what you do? And I'm recognizing that representation is an active thing and it is working. And so people will seek me out, and I know some of the other panelists that will seek you out and say, I'm trying to figure this thing out and I can't figure it out.
And we have to spend time with people giving them the answers to the test, giving them an extra boost and those kinds of things that is not cheating. It's not unfair. It is how career success happens. And I'm going to speak for myself, and I raised in the Detroit area, and I belong to a black community culture that just doesn't understand and recognize some of the things that are necessary for corporate success. There are side conversations, there are sponsorship, there's this person is under my wing. There are people doing things that allow the machine to function. It's not cheating. It's a matter of, Hey, this is how I see you in 10 years, who's in a position to talk to younger people and tell them that? Very few. So this is an active thing that has to be done, and I'm seeing it done pretty well.
But it is very, very important. And one last thing I'll say about this, because I'm a work from home advocate and a lot of the younger people that I am mentoring our suffering for a lack of access to senior people because of work from home. And so if we're going to work from home, we're going to have to figure out ways that they can run into us and they may be shy or embarrassed to ask certain questions. We've got to be present for people and work from home is creating some challenges that are going to affect black and brown communities more. And I feel like we need some answers to that as well. Jessica Denson (43:49):

That's an interesting point. I've not heard brought up about the idea that the, because we're a remote workforce as well at Connected Nation, whereas not having a senior leader or somebody there that you can interact with could have negative effects, but it makes sense. And Sabrina, we haven't heard from you for a moment, so I just want to throw that to you. You are, you said over 600 engineers, you lead a huge team. Where does mentorship fit in that system for you? Sabrina Morton (44:20):

It's twofold. Part of it is company allowed as far as company assisted, and some of it is really being four facing seeking out mentors. I try through one-on-one sessions with individuals to figure out what their gaps are. If they don't know the gaps, what do you want to be when you grow up and try to help align them with mentors. Our company does have an internal mentoring system that allows people to put in what type of mentor they're looking for, and then they have mentors that are looking to mentor others that also engage in this portal to help connect people. So they promote that within also with our employee resource groups, they promote heavily the opportunities for mentorship and the need for mentoring. Even when you don't think you need a mentor, you need a mentor, even at the executive level, you need a mentor because you don't know what you don't know. And these opportunities are priceless. As Doug mentioned with us having a very diverse workforce. My team is over eight different sites throughout the us. I have a few outside of the country as well. So having a team that's all over the place, that open door policy, but also having the flexibility of them being paired with someone that's either close to age, close in skillset or someone that has been there to have those crucial critical conversations and confidentiality to help them overcome some of their daily obstacles and deliverables. Jessica Denson (46:02):

Yeah. I'm struck by what you say. You don't know what you don't know. And we talk about the C-suite a lot, which is the CFOs, the CIOs, the COOs, and I know Doug, you are a CIO, but for the amount of black and brown people that are in the C-suite is very minimal, especially when you talk black or brown women. So having mentors for the higher level, that has to be a significant challenge as well. Doug McCullough (46:33):

Yeah. Was that to me, Jessica Denson (46:35):

Just to anyone who would like to jump in on that one? Doug McCullough (46:37):

I would love to just say on that I am a CIO, but I'm a CIO of a small city in Ohio, right? And so yeah, the corporate level CIOs is a lot less. And I do also want to say that the middle tier of management is where a lot of this magic is. It's where people are not getting hired and promoted, and it's also where people are not getting mentored and guided middle management in this country is not great. I say that as a MBA person who went to school for management, and it is where you'll often hear at the senior levels, even at the board level, commitments to diversity that's getting lost in the middle. They have challenges and targets that they have to meet that have nothing to do with diversity, and they're just not even really going to try. And so I think that's where we need some mentoring as well, because younger people coming in at the junior level are looking at the middle level as to how to act and how to succeed in that company. They're not really looking at the c-suite. They look there for representation, but for how should I guide my career? They're looking at the middle and I think we need to spend some time there. Jessica Denson (47:47):

Jessica, Sabrina Morton (47:48):

Let me piggyback real quick. One thing, I think the misconception too with mentoring is that the mentor is going to give you all the answers you need. You have to come in and do the homework. You can't just show up at a mentor's office, fix all my problems. There's homework that needs to be done. There's an effort that needs to be done. They can't just pick you up and move you from this to that. Yes, you have mentors and you have sponsors that have the ability to do that, but it takes work, it takes performing, it takes executing. And so a lot of times people that are being mentored sometimes don't think about that part of it. They just show up and haven't done anything since the last mentoring sessions. So you have to establish that early on in a mentoring relationship, what are we trying to do here? And make sure that people are moving towards that, not just showing up, having a 15 minute conversation till three months from now when we talk again. Jessica Denson (48:40):

Yeah, I like it being framed as a relationship. I think that is nail on the head there when preparing for this discussion. I want to make sure we touch on this topic that all of you said you wanted to make sure we talked about, which was the misuse of diversity and equity. You've kind of touched on some of the issues around that, the point being that they're often misused and that they can undermine black excellence. Really, Heather, you were one of the ones who brought this issue up, so I'm going to let you open us up on this topic. Heather Gate (49:16):

Thanks, Jessica. I touched on some of it earlier, but I think there's a couple of things that drive us crazy. One of them is organizations that approach this as a quota issue. I need to hire a certain number without further thought. And what does diversity mean? The second part is what I talked about earlier, which is having a diversity office that is just there for our periods but has no decision making authority and resources. And so what we're saying is that there needs to be a more serious approach to what it means to have a diverse workshop. I mean workforce, how do you get a diverse employees and prepare them and mentor them for leadership because they're not any, if your board is not diverse, if your senior management is not diverse, then something's missing. You're missing something. And so I think those are some of the key issues we have to tackle.
The other one is that perception that diversity lowers standards. Somehow you have to lower your standard in order to increase diversity, which is almost insulting to a way in a way, because there's this assumption that in order for me to diversify, I have to lower my standards. And without realizing that all that's saying is, are you looking in different places? If you are an employer that goes to college campuses to recruit, which colleges are you going to are HBCUs? Because surprisingly, you are going to find the same level of talent. Are you posting your jobs in places where diverse populations tend to go to find jobs?
And so it's really sort of another layer of it is, is there bias in the way you search for talent? Because some people say we're race neutral, yet the job description sort of points to a specific type of candidate that grew up with a specific type type of experience or the tests they're doing to get people through the door has a bias in it, yet they see themselves as racially neutral. And so those are some of the barriers and myths that if you are intentionally implementing a inclusive and diversity, you have to really invest in understanding and making sure that those biases are addressed before you actually have an effective diversity strategy, which again leads to better performance, a happier workforce and better morale. Jessica Denson (52:29):

Fallon, I would think that this is an area that you would really like to weigh in on because of the idea of equity and inclusion, and you brought up HBCUs as well, and the importance of looking to those organizations, which those are historical black colleges and universities. For those who don't know, what are your thoughts on that issue? Dr. Fallon Wilson (52:57):

I'm probably going to take a couple of steps back and simply say, I know we pick on the tech companies and we should, but I like to pick on government too. And I think the reason why we have racism is because systems all work together to not to create opportunities for equity and also for liberation for people who look like me. And so it's not just tech companies, it is government, it is philanthropy, it is nonprofits who all consistently either recruit similar people and to Heather's point from similar locations or we don't think about what it means to systematically live in a country that has disinvested in you for decades. I'm just simply saying that I don't think we understand how dense and how oppressive racism our other types of systems are for communities, because if we did, we would create additional ways or give way more funding than we do give to these communities to address these issues.
Or for instance, I'm always looking at agencies and how they think about grant making and some of the unconscious bias and peer reviewed, even though it's blind. But yet if you mention an HBCU in your proposal that somehow they don't have the science or the longevity to be seen as viable institutions to carry out scientific research for our country. When you ask the question about DNI and we think about tech companies, I think about all the other institutions that are operating in the same space that are telling us that black people, black genius, it's not valuable for them. And if they are valuable, you're going to have to give them technical assistance. And if they're valuable, then you have to figure out infantalizing them and not seeing them as equal. Jessica Denson (54:49):

Sabrina, you wanted to bring up something also about the idea of Yeah, bias. Sabrina Morton (54:58):

I personally feel like companies and hiring managers can mitigate a lot of the biases and ensure that there's a fair evaluation of candidates even in the selection process by doing a few things, standardizing the interview process, removing the identifiable information from the resume, like a blind resume because sometimes people see a name and some certain things and they just automatically assume and make judgment calls from there. Employee training so that the managers can recognize that they have an unconscious bias, right? Using assessment test to evaluate the candidates based on the skills, but making sure that we have our talent acquisition and HR support when we're looking at hiring individuals and making sure that we have a diverse slate on a panel of those that are interviewing. But I know for the company that I work for, there are various positions that before we make a final decision, one of the questions is asked is that, do we look at a diverse slate of candidates at this? Do we just automatically say, oh, well we know this guy, so no Uhuh, no. They want us to look at a diverse slate to ensure that we are bringing in and looking at people various backgrounds, not just one pool of groups from certain schools or things like that. Jessica Denson (56:32):

And Doug or Heather, do you have some that you would like to add to that? Doug McCullough (56:37):

I was just going to share, I don't remember who kind of, to Fallon's point, I don't remember who has the quote that if you don't understand racism, everything else is just going to confuse you. And I'm sensitive to Fallon's point about in internal conversations, we do talk about racism and sometimes a company will make or government will make a commitment to a hundred million dollars in available grants and focus and create small little barriers there in which they know I have to suspect. They know that no one is going to be able to comply with. And as a result, a year later, you're going to claw this money back and you're on record as having done something. You didn't actually do anything and it didn't actually cost you anything. And I think Fallon, you're giving the benefit of the doubt of saying, I'm not saying it's because of this, but it could be. We have to assume it's intentional at this point. We're talking about it and we know it, and I can anticipate in 2025, a lot of money is going to become available that we will not be able to take advantage of. And I know this now, so when it happens, there's no surprises there. But also in talking, I'm sorry, go ahead. Jessica Denson (57:58):

If I may, when we were talking about this, one of the things you brought up was the pendulum swing about how it goes one way and then suddenly it goes the other way. And it seems to be what we're finding now and it can really be devastating to black and brown communities, correct? Doug McCullough (58:15):

Well, it is devastating if a pendulum could go back to the middle, if it could swing over and it stop in the middle, that would be something, but it doesn't swings the other direction. And so we have losses on the other side, and some of us are experiencing this George Floyd pain right now, quite frankly. And it was wonderful. People were dancing in the streets about how racism was over and we're all going to, it's fixed. And a lot of us looked at it and said, this is really going to hurt when it comes back the other way. But that being the case, it would be better if the pendulum didn't swing so wide. And I do like the gains that maybe and the commitments to some of the dollars, but we need to do day-to-day work, just every day another gain and move inches and then move feet and then move miles, and we just need to be moving forward and we can't afford the backwards views or the backwards actions.
So I am very sensitive to this, and for a lot of us who've been doing this work for a long time, you just keep working. This is not something you stop and complain about, but if you give us the mic for a little while, we will say, look, the deck is stacked against you and it is bothersome and tiresome and we have to do the work even though it's not fair. We cannot stop and complain, but if we really do an analysis of what is going to make us successful, it's going to take a sustained commitment in our corporate sector, in our government at all levels. And for ourselves. The comment was made about you can't go to your mentor and say, I didn't really do any of the work. We have to do the work. We're going to have to do digital divide work ourselves. We're not going to be able to depend on grants and available stuff. We're going to have to do it every day if it's door knocking, if it's being present in the community, if it's connecting things to HBCUs, we are in charge, but we know what we're doing. And so as money becomes available and resources available and companies want to make commitments, we just need solid follow through. I would say. Dr. Fallon Wilson (01:00:26):

And can I just piggyback on what Doug just shared a little bit? What I hear from you, what you're saying, and I've said it before, I don't think, given the information cost of technology, given the political costs of supporting blackness, given all of the costs associated with just trying to create a liberated and equitable future for black people in this country, I don't think there's a way forward without a social movement. And I'm a researcher by training, and actually social theory is part of some of the work that I've done in the past is looking at how a social movement for digital liberated futures for black people helps, number one, democratize the notion of technology and the types of skills and types of mentoring and models that we want. It holds government accountable for the policies and the transactions that they also contribute to. It forces companies like it did during George Floyd to be able to look at itself, not just the self and the sense of diversity numbers, but the self of, oh my gosh, racism is like air.
It's all around us. Even in my procurement department, if I'm telling a small black business, I want you to supply A, B and C for us, but I give you a net 45 days or a net 90 days, then oh my gosh, that's not going to work for you. Only a social movement can help drench every part of the systems that have been created to keep black and brown people out of technology, leadership spaces, out of tech innovation spaces. I feel like, to your point, Doug, we've been doing this work for so long and so often Doug McCullough (01:02:06):

We understand it. It's not mysterious anymore. We Dr. Fallon Wilson (01:02:09):

Understand there's no mystification here, and that's the other crazy thing for me. We know what the solutions are and some of the solutions don't even cost money, but people won't do it. And why is that? They won't do it because they do not see us as valuable. That's the only thing I can keep coming back to, which is why, to your point, I love the notion of figuring out, I rather Terry among black communities who don't have all the resources because they may say some things I don't agree with, but they're going to help. That's why I work with churches. That's why I work with Moss and Temples, because they can translate and they can mobilize. Jessica Denson (01:02:54):

Yeah. Let's talk a little bit about solutions. I have to say it's sad to hear that you know what the answers are, but a lot of people don't want to do the work or aren't doing the work. A lot of organizations aren't doing the work that should be. So what advice or thoughts do you have for overcoming challenges to breaking barriers? Some things we talked about was being your authentic self or that stigma of the geeky person doesn't include people of color. Those ridiculous ideas that a person of color is only one thing. Can we talk some about that? And Heather, why don't you open us on this? Haven't heard from you for a moment. Heather Gate (01:03:37):

I think so one of my passions is, again, going back to being that girl that was told they can't do it. My goal is to be part of making sure that we start educating and being intentional about engaging with kids with young children. And so one of the things that we've started is we have a program called Teens Teach Tech and Teens Teach Check is really a part of our mentorship program where we're targeting, really trying to be intentional about including them in really the digital equity discussion, including them in really identifying problems in their community, bringing them to the table because historically we've not let them be part of the discussion. We've left them behind and so has government and so has nonprofits, and so has a lot of people. And so I'm really sort of committed to starting early and really motivating the next Sabrina Fallon. And so I think one of the things that I was thinking about is we were talking about the systemic nature of how we're not at the table. I look at, for example, I'm not going to name the industry, but there's one pretty significant and influential industry that most of their, when you look at their data, most of their CEOs are from Ivy League colleges. And you can track that, trace it back to how they recruit interns because they only recruit interns from Ivy League colleges. Jessica Denson (01:05:33):

Just a programming note, I want to interrupt our conversation for just one moment. Fallon had to step away. As you guys heard earlier, she was at the Department of Commerce, so she's going to step away from our conversation and appreciates everyone's time. So thank you for that. But we're going to continue with Heather Gate, Doug McCullough and Sabrina Morton and continue the conversation. So Heather, I asked you what advice or thoughts you would have for overcoming challenges. Let's talk some solutions. Being your authentic self and that stigma of the geeky person often doesn't include people of color. Some ridiculous ideas like that that don't really make sense to me anyway, in the idea that what do we do to get rid of that idea or those stigmas or make some changes. Heather Gate (01:06:31):

So yeah, at Connected Nation, we recently started a program about a year and a half ago called Teens Teach Tech. And that is something that I had been dreaming about since I started working at Connected Nation and being that girl that was told I couldn't do it, I wanted to make sure that more kids are equipped and ready to tackle the world that we live in, which is a tech world. Whether you're going into the tech sector or not, it is a tech world and it is a world that requires you to be assertive and competitive. And although teens teach tech really equips kids, we give them startup money and incentives to create their own projects within their community that help to address issues of digital equity. So it is a mentorship program. It is an actual training program because the kids get to train, whether it is their own families, whether it is members of their own church or temple or mosque or whether it is some other members in the community, they get to actually be part of a solution.
And so part of it is really igniting that passion in them and really preparing them in order so they can be the type of kids, be the kids that Sabrina was talking about that come prepared because they know how to manage projects, they know how to create a solution, they know how to identify problems. So it is about taking small bites and creating a positive. You can do this spirit. Nobody should ever tell you that you can't achieve if you put in the work. And so it's been a really exciting experience because not only are these kids delivering, but in 2023, we were able to provide training for 12,000 people across the country and seeing the light in these kids' faces as they realized that they had the answer because they had the skills to do this, but nobody ever told them that You actually have the skills to do it and you can do it.
And guess what? Outside of your community, you can go learn some stuff and bring it back to your community and be part of a solution. So from my perspective, I know we're talking about institutions and tackling diversity from an institutional perspective. I'm passionate about helping being part of inspiring and motivating and mentoring girls and boys and kids from different communities to be able to so that no employer should be able to look at them and say, I need to lower my standards, or there's no talent. That's just not true. The talent is there and my role is to really nurture it and make sure that I don't hear those. You need to take easier classes. As I was told, Jessica Denson (01:09:48):

It's insulting. And Sabrina, when we talked about this, you emphasized previously when we were preparing for this, not just reaching up but reaching back. Explain what you mean by that. Sabrina Morton (01:10:06):

We have to take into consideration that there's a ladder that we climb, and a lot of times we're focused so forward on moving up, moving up, moving up. We never take the time to reach back or look back to see who's behind us, look back to see who's watching us, looking to see what ways we can help reduce the climb for those and the struggles that they're having to deal with. So I try to make sure that even with mentoring, I try to teach strategies to help others understand how to overcome a lot of the challenges and how to break the barriers, right? And that's from building a strong network of peers and mentors, people that can provide support and guidance to help you navigate your career. But they also have to understand there's got to be continuous work on developing your technical skills and your expertise that's got to make you more valuable in the industry, but also help you break down the barriers based on merit, right?
You have to seek out opportunities and advocate for yourself and other that are underrepresented in the industry. I do it all the time in meetings by helping them speak up and be a visible voice in the fight, to really bring awareness that we need to help others overcome some of the struggles that they have of some people just don't do public speaking. They're great thinkers, but they just don't do public speakers. So you have to understand their gaps and help bring them out of there. But look for groups like NSBE Suite, all these different organizations that help promote diversity and inclusion and then keeping track of the industry trend. So for me, I've done that by, I do a lot of it just, it's a natural thought for me that I stay engaged. Some people think, what's the value of an ERG? Because it's helping you understand the dynamics of the business, things that you don't learn in the business.
So there's a lot of moving parts in it, but you have to be strategic to help yourself to move to where you need to be. So in the current role that I have right now, when I interviewed for it, I interviewed with the president of our sector and after I got the job, I didn't ask him this during it, but after I got the job, I said, you had a great slate of candidates, including myself. I don't have any doubt in myself. However, what made me different than the others? And he said, you were authentically you when you came into my office. And we need people that can be authentically them when they show up every day. Jessica Denson (01:12:52):

I love that. Instead of trying to fit some mold, right? Sabrina Morton (01:12:59):

Oh yeah, I'm definitely not. I break the mold. I can you that right now. I break the mold. I am not their traditional division chief engineer, and I pride myself on saying that to you. Right. And Jessica Denson (01:13:10):

Heather, you were going to say something. I think I interrupted you there. Heather Gate (01:13:15):

Oh, I was going to say that Sabrina has been that way her whole career. When I, as a college student, Sabrina was taking students with her for job. She was mentoring as a student herself. She was a force. And so I'm not surprised that she continues to be a force of nature when it came to just advocating and mentoring and just getting students to go to career fairs. She was literally taking them with her. It's pretty amazing. So I can confirm that she's definitely authentic, 120%. Jessica Denson (01:14:02):

Doug, you run Black Tech Columbus or you're part of Black Tech Columbus at least. What do you think are some things that can be done to make or to create an idea that tech is something that all people should be interested in? Doug McCullough (01:14:18):

Part of it's just that kind of an activity where you have a space and the mission of Black Tech Columbus is to create an authentic space for black technology professionals to connect, collaborate, and create. And we've worked on that for a long, long time. That phrase, just having a space for people just to wear. We've said in our videos, wear their own hair, speak in their real voice, use their real accent and not take their mask off and not code switch and just create that space. One of the interesting things happened when we started having those activities is that non technologists came because they were curious just to hang out and to listen to some topics. And people came and said, I've just been sort of interested in this, but I didn't know where to turn. And so just even connecting and collecting in a community as a community can have an effect on just making this stuff accessible to people because people are curious and they'll come around and then they meet someone and they form a relationship and magic happens.
I do also want to point out from some of the conversation before, there's a T-shirt that a lot of black people like to wear that says, I'm my ancestors' wildest dream. And I really think about what Sabrina and Heather were just talking about in terms of some of the things that they have done in their career to break the mold and to do things for others. Sometimes an individual who has been invested in can make an extraordinary impact on the rest of the community. And I don't think that just having individuals in here is going to get the whole job done, but we have to as a community, invest in individuals who may be moving towards STEM or technology or those kinds of things because one day they are going to be a division leader. One day they are going to be a C-suite or a board member or an inventor of something or a startup founder or something like that.
I just believe that one of the ways we're going to impact this is in investing in individuals who ask a question or release their inner blurred. And if you're not familiar with blurred, it's just black nerd and give them a space, a safe space and protect them and those kinds of things. And more than one person has to do it. And so I just feel like if we begin investing in, I think about our ancestors that invested in us, they were not ever going to be able to be where we are now, and they knew it and they saved their pennies so that we could either go to college or we could just get a couple of inches further. And so we're blessed with an extraordinary moment that we're not satisfied with where we are, but look at how people invested in us and placed in these positions. That motivates me every day to now talk to another younger person or someone who's new to the field and give them a space for them to just get in the door. We can't afford to lose a single person. Jessica Denson (01:17:23):

I feel like this conversation could go for two hours and we still would barely touch things. I have a whole host of questions still, but let's bring it up and wrap it up. And I have one last question for each of you that I'd love you each to answer if you could. That is why is Black History Month important and what's the one thing that you hope people take from our conversation? And Sabrina, we'll let you start. Sabrina Morton (01:17:51):

Black History Month is important. However, to me, I think learning goes on along all year long. I try to make sure I educate my colleagues on culture on just an understanding of the challenges that we face every day, not just during February. So Black History Month is important to me, but I live it all year long. But one of the things that takeaway from this, I wanted people to make sure they really understand that we have to get more individuals of color involved in the tech industry. And I'm not just talking about our youth either. We have to help adults pivot as well into these careers to help them provide them with new opportunities for economic mobility and financial stability. Those adults that do that, they're going to bring more wealth of life experiences because they have a different perspective they can contribute. I know me, I contributed more as an adult coming into the tech field because I wasn't, I mean, yes, the newbies coming out of college, they have a sponge of a brain, but the added value of a seasoned individual and an adult coming into industry as well, bringing their previous role, life's experiences into that can help shape that 360 degree view of a person.
Mentorship, when adults pivot in the technical roles, they can also serve as mentor and role models to the younger generation, helping them being supportive of an inclusive environment for black youth and having adults, and I'm sorry, not just adults, but youth and adults from communities of color can, as I mentioned before, help with that skills gap. Jessica Denson (01:19:44):

Heather, the mic next to give us her roundup and her final takeaways. Heather Gate (01:19:51):

I think I agree with Sabrina on that Black history is sort of a year round learning of black history, but as a collective, as a country, this is a moment to reflect on achievements and opportunities that are not necessarily a recognized year round to learn something new and have a conversation about these type of conversation about how can we advance life for black kids, for black families and adults. But I think we want to get to a point where we feel that black history is well integrated into American history, that we don't have to have Black History Month because it is part of everybody understands what it is, but for now, recognizing the achievements, the opportunities, and also the challenges in having these conversations. Jessica Denson (01:20:58):

And Doug, we'll give you the final word. You've been a gentleman and letting us all speak at first so you can have their final word of the day. Doug McCullough (01:21:08):

Thank you. And that was well said. What was just said was well said, black History Month is cool. It's an opportunity for us to study our history and for other people to have an excuse to jump in and study history as well. I think it's important to celebrate history. We have to understand where we've come from so that we can make better decisions today. And what I hope people walk away from this podcast and this event as well as Black History Month is a positive message of what's possible. And while we're faced with a lot of challenges, I feel very positive. I'm energized, I'm motivated. I believe we have the tools we need, and we just need to have conversations and relationships in order for us to do what we all know needs to be done. So while I am challenged and dismayed, sometimes I have a positive outlook and I hope people walk away with that. Jessica Denson (01:22:00):

Alright. Oh, that's a great place to leave it. So thank you, Sabrina, Heather, and Doug. And as I mentioned earlier, Fallon had to drop away because she was at an event that she had to attend to. So thank you. I appreciate every one of you. Doug McCullough (01:22:16):

Thank you. Jessica Denson (01:22:28):

I want to thank our guests again today for a great round table discussion. We've been talking with Sabrina Morton, Dr. Fallon Wilson, Heather Gate, and Doug McCullough. I'll include links to each of their organizations they represent in the description of this podcast. On our next episode of Connected Nation, you'll hear from one broadband leader who told Forbes there's a quote, distinct bias that's perpetuating the digital divide. Find out what he believes that is, and explore the network he says, can finally reach the most rural of communities in the United States. I'm Jessica Denson. Thanks for listening. If you like our show, I want to know more about us. Head to connect or look for the latest episodes of Connect Nation on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.

Introduction + Meeting the guests
What attracted the guests to tech
What the guests most excited about right now
The importance of representation in tech
How mentorship helps representation
Why recruiting from HBCU's is vital
The pendulum swinging back
Advice for overcoming challenges and breaking barriers
Final questions
Conclusion + Outro